The Thunder emerged from Wednesday’s second intermission sporting its warm-up hockey jerseys, a change from the regular gamers worn during the first two periods.
Tulsa, meanwhile, stuck with what was working, continuing an improbable streak of efficiency with a third-period goal that cemented a 5-1 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita was supposed to wear its warm-ups for the entire game because they were auctioned to fans afterward. The new look brought no new mojo, particularly for goaltender Sean Bonar.
Tulsa scored three goals on its first three shots of the second, and its third-period score was the Oilers’ fourth goal on seven shots. The Thunder’s defense, as well as the momentum it began to create by holding Tulsa to few shots in the second period, were wasted.
“We got out of the first two periods (trailing) 1-0,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “The next two periods, total, they get seven shots in two periods. But they get four goals on seven shots over the last two periods.
“That’s not really frustrating us, that’s … I don’t know what you want to call it.”
The Thunder plays its final home game on Friday against Tulsa, the last Wichita appearance during a difficult season. With Wednesday’s loss, the Thunder missed the slim chance it had to avoid the ECHL’s worst record, a cellar it only began to climb out of with a March stretch of seven wins in 12 games.
For all of the recent steps forward, Wednesday showed that the Thunder can fall into its early-season devastating habits. Wichita can’t typically generate offense threatening enough to score four shots in seven goals, and defensive breakdowns often happen in succession.
Tulsa capitalized on some on Wednesday, scoring its second goal after defenseman Martin Nemcik lost progress on his assignment after being hit in the mouth with an errant puck. Later, Thunder defensemen, in a 2-1 game, mistimed an approach that enabled a 2-on-1 Tulsa goal.
“It’s tough,” Thunder forward Dean Chelios said. “It looks bad on the stat sheet but you can’t blame (goalie Sean) Bonar, they were good shots, good opportunities. It seems like we’ve had a lot of times like that this year where we’re getting our chances and getting good shots, we just don’t seem to finish a lot of them.
“It happens. It wasn’t indicative of the score, but we played hard and we understand that.”
There were probably times this season when the Thunder was eagerly anticipating the end. It lost 17 of 18 games between Jan. 8 and Feb. 16, hitting a low point after drifiting near the bottom months before that.
With two games to go, including Saturday’s finale at Tulsa, the occasion isn’t as gleeful, especially with a potentially uncertain offseason ahead. McClelland’s contract expires after the season – no decision has been made on his status – and many Thunder players have a tenuous future with the team.
“February and March felt like it didn’t even happen,” Chelios said. “(The end) is upon us right now. Honestly with the group of guys in here and (McClelland), we have a good time every day. The losses are coming, but this team has handled it well, so it’s going to be tough.”
Scoring—1. Tulsa, Lalancette (Brewer, Pleskach), 11:22. Penalties—Tulsa, Gagnon (removing the helmet, fighting major), 9:01; Wichita, Leroux (removing the helmet, fighting major), 9:01; Wichita, Osklanski (roughing), 9:01; Wichita, Harris (hooking), 15:05.
Scoring—2. Tulsa, Murphy (Kroshus, Lipsbergs), 4:25; 3. Wichita, Oslanski (Isackson, Kerbashian), 6:38; 4. Tulsa, Drapluk (Nugent), 13:07; 5. Tulsa, Kroshus PP (Brown, Lalancette), 14:25. Penalties—Tulsa, Kroshus (hooking), 1:07; Wichita, Milan (hooking), 14:02; Tulsa, Gagnon (holding), 15:17.
Scoring—6. Tulsa, Lipsbergs (Bates), 2:08. Penalties—Tulsa, Pleskach (too many men bench minor), 4:55.
Power play—Tulsa 1-3, Wichita 0-3. Shots—Tulsa 19-5-2—26, Wichita 8-10-10—28. Saves—Tulsa, Olkinuora 27-28; Wichita, Bonar 20-25, Shantz 1-1.