Thunder goaltender Tyler Bunz nearly left Sunday’s game against Evansville after a collision left him with an injured shin. After he decided to stay in, Bunz allowed two quick goals.
Turns out it was just a coincidence.
Playing on the Thunder’s recent theme of resiliency, Bunz was at his best after Evansville tied the score. He made several impressive saves after a Jared Walker goal gave Wichita a late lead that Bunz preserved for a 4-3 Thunder win at Intrust Bank Arena.
Sunday’s win, which included a pair of goals from captain Ian Lowe, was coach Kevin McClelland’s 162nd with the Thunder, moving him past Bryan Wells for the franchise’s most.
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“I was playing well so I kind of wanted to battle that game out and see if I could get the win,” Bunz said. “But two quick ones (from Evansville), then a huge goal by Walk. You play through the pain and you get a win. No matter how many goals you let in, winning feels good.”
Two players were chasing a loose puck near Wichita’s goal with about 12 minutes to go in the third period when one appeared to clip Bunz’s knee — though he said later his shin was most injured. Bunz rolled around the ice in pain while Tim Boron prepared to take his place and trainer Cole Libby attended to him.
After a couple minutes, Bunz got up and stretched out his leg and was soon back in net. The injury seemed to affect Bunz at least mentally, because Evansville scored two goals in a 19-second stretch to tie it 3-3. Bunz’ play down the stretch indicated that the impact was minimal.
“I felt pretty confident staying in there,” Bunz said. “I thought I’d be able to hold down the fort, then one off our (defenseman’s) shins. Those are just two goals that are going to happen to any goalie. They worked hard, they pushed hard. You could tell in the third period that they wanted to score a couple goals.
“But we come out with the win. We’ve been doing that a lot lately. It’s ugly at times, but at the end of the day we’re collecting wins and that’s all that matters.”
Seven of the Thunder’s last eight wins, dating to Dec. 17, were by one goal, including three in overtime or a shootout. Wichita endures stretches of ineptitude, like the two third-period goals it surrendered Sunday or three unanswered Saturday against Evansville before another near-rally, but often quickly recovers.
That apparently applies to the health of its players. Though forward Todd Hosmer made his mark before being hurt, scoring a third-period goal to put the Thunder ahead 3-1, he left the game with an injury later in the period only to return in the final minutes.
Wichita (18-12-2-4) has won eight of its last 13 games. Sunday, Lowe scored Wichita’s first two goals and assisted on Hosmer’s. He moved into a tie for second in the ECHL with his sixth power-play goal and has scored a point in 10 of Wichita’s last 11 games.
“We’re a team that’s been in a lot of one-goal games lately,” McClelland said. “We’ve been on the right side of the ledger on that. They come back and tie it up and boom, our third line comes back and gets the game-winner. Those are good signs for a hockey club.”
Scoring—None. Penalties—Wichita, Lowe (holding), 6:29; Evansville, Kerbashian (slashing), 17:34.
Scoring—1. Wichita, Lowe (Walker, Wilson), 13:29; 2. Evansville, Wong (Currie, Kerbashian). Penalties—Wichita, Miller (roughing), 9:36; Wichita, Lowe (goalie interference), 11:04; Evansville, McKenzie (roughing), 12:47; Wichita, Tulupov (roughing), 12:47; Evansville, Johnston (boarding), 14:44; Evansville, Greenham (roughing), 19:53; Wichita, Granbois (roughing), 19:53.
Scoring—3. Wichita, Lowe PP (Wilson, Tulupov), 1:43; 4. Wichita, Hosmer (Lowe, Miller), 4:39; 5. Evansville, Lowry PP (Culek, Wong), 8:03; 6. Evansville, Wong (Harvey), 8:22; Wichita, Walker (Kashirsky, Milan), 12:14. Penalties—Evansville, Rutkowski (cross checking), 1:21; Evansville, Murray (tripping), 5:08; Wichita, Hosmer (cross checking), 7:54; Wichita, Trebish (high sticking), 14:40; Wichita, Kerbashian (slashing), 15:25.
Power play—Evansville 1-5, Wichita 1-5. Shots—Evansville 5-11-15—31, Wichita 18-10-10—38. Saves—Evansville, Greenham 34-38; Wichita, Bunz 28-31.