There were four Thunder players in the penalty box at one point during the second period against Evansville on Saturday night. It became such a festive locale that they were probably thinking about inviting more.
Wichita scored two goals shortly after an Erick Lizon fight started the penalty binge, nearly answering the three consecutive scored by Evansville earlier in the period.
The Thunder maintained the energy for most of the third period but couldn’t finish the rally, falling to the IceMen 5-3 at Intrust Bank Arena after Evansville scored an empty-netter in the final minute.
“That’s why a game is 60 minutes,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said of Wichita’s quick recovery from a 4-1 deficit. “(Lizon) went out there and changed the complexion of the game and our guys got a little bit of a spark.”
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The Thunder needed a boost following the manner in which it fell behind by three. RG Flath scored for Wichita 90 seconds in, but Evansville tied it later in the period and scored three more in the second on a series of uncommon circumstances.
After falling behind 2-1 early in the second, Wichita earned a power play with a chance to tie it. But while trying to gather a loose puck that deflected in the air, two Thunder players collided, leaving Matt Lowry to scoop up the puck and break away for a goal.
Less than four minutes after Lowry’s goal, Evansville made it 4-1 on a deflection that changed direction just before reaching goaltender Tim Boron.
That’s when Lizon decided to act. His fight with Evansville’s Randy Cure didn’t last long before Lizon took Cure down, then motioned to the suddenly enthusiastic crowd.
The enthusiasm carried over to the Thunder, who got goals from Ian Duval and a short-handed score from Jared Walker in a 38-second stretch. Those goals came with Lizon, Dan Milan and Eric Meland in the penalty box.
Walker joined them later in the period and Wichita killed a 5-on-3 penalty that lasted for more than a minute, building even more momentum.
“Our guys on the power play ran into each other and gave them a shorty,” McClelland said. “Pretty easy one there. Our guys came back, we just can’t be falling behind 4-1.”
The Thunder’s best chance to tie it came in the final minutes of the third, when Wichita had a power play, then pulled Boron for a six-on-five advantage for the final minute. Several power-play shots and passes came perilously close to tying it 4-4, including multiple breaks on which the Thunder had a one-on-one with the goalie or a two-on-one advantage.
After failing on one such playmaking opportunity in the final minute, Evansville took control of the puck and scored on empty-net goal by utilizing a two-on-one break.
“We’re not scoring,” McClelland said. “Our power play can’t win us a game, and now it’s cost us a game with the short-handed goal-against. Our guys just have to execute better.”
Scoring—1. Wichita, Flath (Gauthier), 1:30; 2. Evansville, Culek (unassisted), 15:16. Penalties—Wichita, Milan (cross checking), 6:10; Wichita, Flath (boarding), 12:01; Wichita, Miller (tripping), 17:47.
Scoring—3. Evansville, Harris (Wong, Lepine), 2:36; 4. Evansville, Lowry SH (Johnston), 5:45; 5. Evansville, Sakaris (Harris, Rutkowski), 9:16; 6. Wichita, Duval (Milan, Granbois), 14:55; 7. Wichita, Walker SH (Lowe, Milan), 15:33. Penalties—Evansville, Currie (tripping), 4:06; Evansville, McKenzie (roughing double minor), 7:08; Wichita, Milan (roughing double minor), 7:08; Evansville, Cure (removing the helmet), 9:17; Evansville, Cure (fighting major), 9:17; Wichita, Lizon (removing the helmet), 9:17; Wichita, Lizon (fighting major), 9:17; Wichita, Meland (delay of game), 15:23; Wichita, Walker (cross checking), 16:03.
Scoring—8. Evansville, Lukin empty-net (Kerbashian, McKenzie), 19:16. Penalties—Wichita, Lowe (high sticking), 7:34; Evansville, Sakaris (holding), 10:05; Evansville, Currie (cross checking), 16:17.
Power play—Evansville 0-6, Wichita 0-3. Shots—Evansville 11-8-3—22, Wichita 8-11-10—29. Saves—Evansville, Driedger 26-29; Wichita, Boron 17-21.