TULSA, Okla. – It took four tries, but the Tulsa Oilers managed to finally defeat the Rapid City Rush 4-2 in front of 4,191 in the BOK Center on Sunday afternoon.
The hero on the night was Oilers defenseman Miles Liberati, who corralled a loose puck in front of Rapid City goaltender Tyler Parks and fired it home to give the Oilers their first lead over the Rush this season.
“When I first came here, I remember (Coach) Murray was telling everyone the boards are real bouncy here. When you dump it in hard, sometimes it will kick out front,” Liberati recalled. “It happened that time, and I just followed it up to the net and got the rebound.”
The fat rebound caught Parks looking, and that’s all the Oilers defenseman needed to throw it past him, netting him his fourth goal on the season.
“Once it got to me, the goalie did not know where it was, and I knew I was going to be able to put that in,” Liberati said. “He was trying to come across, and I went back against the grain and kind of bounced it in, almost.”
Liberati’s goal took one of the items that Murray had told the Oilers defense to focus on, which was playing a little deeper into the zone for the purpose of scoring opportunities.
“(Murray) wants us to be aggressive, but not to the point we are giving up odd-man rushes,” he said. “On that one, I knew I was safe to go.”
Ever the perfectionist, Murray was happier with Sunday’s win compared to Thursday’s over Greenville, but saw where his team needed to continue to improve.
“Outside of a couple of penalties in the third period, I thought our penalty kill was excellent tonight,” Murray said. “We really got our legs in the third. We had multiple opportunities to win the game in the third period.”
The game began with Rapid City denting the scoreboard first with Dexter Dancs slamming home a shot from the side of Devin Williams’ goal. Oilers defenseman Steven Kaunisto solved Parks with a blistering shot from the blue line eight minutes later to tie the match headed into the first break.
Giovanni Fiore vaulted the Rush into the lead two-and-a-half-minutes into the second frame, a goal quickly answered by the first goal of the season by Tulsa’s Ian McNulty. Liberati’s heroics were capped off by a tap-in empty-net goal in the game’s dying seconds by Ryan Tesink to inch the Oilers ever closer to .500 on the still-young season.
It also gives them the confidence to maybe start turning the corner on consistency, as Sunday’s win was the team’s third in the last four games.
“We are finally coming together as a team,” Liberati said. “I think we are playing less nervous.”
Next up for the Oilers is a tilt against the Allen Americans on Tuesday night.
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