RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Tulsa Oilers trailed by a pair before rallying with five unanswered goals over the final 22:50 to defeat the Rapid City Rush, 6-3, and take over fourth place in the ECHL’s Mountain Division.
Tulsa came into the crucial three-game weekend in South Dakota one point behind Rapid City for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Mountain, and knew it needed to win all the more since Rapid has three games in hand. Things started poorly for the visitors, falling behind 3-1 midway through the game despite having been the better team in many regards. The desperation and determination of the Oilers was on full display, though, as they persevered through the frustrating first half of the game to storm back and emphatically secure a hard-fought two points and leap-frog the Rush into fourth place.
Tulsa gained the first power play of the night, but it was Rapid City who struck late in the advantage to open the scoring. Tyler Coulter was the man who created the goal, as he stepped in front of a pass at the Rapid City blueline, then chased it down for a quick one-on-one chance against Tulsa tender Devin Williams. Williams was able to stop Coulter’s jam attempt, but the rebound was an easy tap-in for a hard-charging Stephane Legault. The shorty was Legault’s 11th goal of the season and made it 1-0, Rush, 5:41 into the game.
The Oilers were given another chance with the man advantage moments later, and this time the visitors found a goal of their own to pull even. The play was kept alive with a great keep at the point by Steven Kaunisto, who stopped a slapper clearance and fed the puck over to Ryan Tesink at the far halfboard. Tesink quickly bunted a short pass to set up a one-timer for Tulsa newcomer Hunter Drew at the far point. Drew’s blast was stopped by Rapid City netminder Tyler Parks, but Danny Moynihan made an excellent play and kicked the rebound from his skate to his tape then buried it in the back of the net before the Rush keeper could respond. Moynihan’s 16th of the year evened the score at a goal apiece with 11:30 remaining in the opening frame.
Tulsa controlled the pace of play — as well as zone time — in period one, ending up with a 16-7 advantage in shots on goal through 20 minutes. Despite having the better of the play, the Oilers had to settle for a 1-1 deadlock as they departed the ice for the first intermission locker room chat.
Rapid City regained the lead just 2:17 into period two, taking advantage of good positioning and traffic in front to find twine. Tulsa did well to defend a pass to the slot and disrupt the intended target, but the puck slipped through and slid to the top of the slot where Dane Birks stepped into a slapshot and blasted it past a screened Williams to make it 2-1 with 17:43 left in the second segment.
Rapid City then extended the lead to two with a pretty power play goal ten minutes later. The goal was once again set up by Coulter, as he surveyed his options from behind the net and sent a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass through the slot to a waiting Peter Quenneville at the bottom of the near circle. Rapid’s captain picked his spot with lethal precision and sent a one-timer back across the grain that sailed over the shoulder of Williams and found the top corner to make it 3-1 Rush with 7:20 left in the second.
The Rush halted its own momentum with a couple late second period penalties, and while the first was successfully killed, the second was not. The game-shifting shot came with 2:50 left in the middle stanza, as newly returned Brent Gates crossed into the zone with speed before sending a cross-ice pass to Miles Liberati along the far boards. Liberati immediately sent it back across the ice to Adam Pleskach, who was crossed into the zone unaccompanied along the near boards. Pleskach walked to the dot and whipped a wrister that beat Parks just under the glove and inside the far post to pull the Oilers back within a goal.
The Oilers kept pushing. Just 1:39 later, the Rush defense gave way once again. Moynihan and Drew each picked up their second point of the night, as Moynihan crossed the ice and carried it into the zone, then turned and wired one back across the top of the slot to Drew, who took a step and rocketed the biscuit towards goal. It was Charlie Sampair who got the goal, as number eight in white was positioned perfectly at the top of the crease and deflected the shot past Parks to suddenly bring Tulsa even at 3-3 and shorten the contest to a 20-minute affair.
The game remained all square for the first half of the final frame, but 11:40 into period, Tulsa’s captain stepped up once again with what proved to be the game-winning goal. It wouldn’t have happened without the hustle of Tesink, however, as he raced to beat an icing call and wire a low shot on goal in hopes of creating a rebound. His shot did just that, and Pleskach was waiting in the perfect position to slam home the rebound and give Tulsa the lead a 4-3 edge it would not relinquish.
Tulsa doubled the advantage with just 2:27 left on the clock, as Pleskach slipped the puck to Jack Nevins as the two crossed behind the Rapid City net before Nevins sent the puck to a wide-open Liberati stepping up to the far dot. Liberati sent the puck with pinpoint precision to the back of the net to give the visitors a late 5-3 lead to protect.
Rapid City pulled Parks twice for the extra man, but as he was still leaving the ice the second time, the puck was turned over in the neutral zone. Moynihan wasted no time in ending any drama by finding the abandoned cage to make it 6-3 Tulsa with just 51 seconds remaining and provide the final score.
SIN BIN STANDOUTS
Each game we select one player from each team who we feel was the best player on the ice for his squad. Your standouts for Friday are:
- Rapid City – Tyler Coulter. Coulter was the catalyst for the Rapid City offense on Friday, as he contributed two key primary assists to his side’s cause. He stepped in front of a pass to create a shorthanded breakaway that left a juicy rebound for Legault on the first goal, and his pass to Quenneville on the third Rush marker was a thing of beauty.
- Tulsa – Adam Pleskach. There were several Oilers who were deserving, with Moynihan (2G, A), Drew (2A), and Tesink (2A) all making key contributions, but it was the captain who stepped up and stabilized the ship in the key moments. Pleskach started the comeback with a well-placed shot on the power play, put Tulsa up for good with the rebound tally in the third, and helped set up the Liberati goal that created separation late in the third.
A LOOK AT THE STANDINGS
With the win, Tulsa moves to 27-25-6-1 (61 points) on the season, while the loss drops Rapid City to 27-23-5-1 (60 points). The Rush still have three extra games with which to work, and there is a lot of hockey to be played. But, as of now, the Oilers have moved into the fourth and final playoff spot in the Mountain Division. This switch in positioning has been coming for a while now, as the Rush and Oilers are teams on opposite trajectories so far this season.
Rapid City started the year hot and raced out to a 15-5-3-0 start through 23 games, but have since gone 12-18-2-1 and now finds itself outside the top four. The biggest culprit by a country mile has been the goal scoring. The Rush have been giving up goals all year (3.19/game), but early in the season they were able to overcome the defensive deficiencies with timely offense (they averaged 3.18 goals per game over the first 44 games). That has not remotely been the case recently, however, as Rapid City has managed a measly 1.75 goals per game over its last dozen games. The Rush have been outscored 36-12 and gone 3-6-2-1 over the twelve game stretch.
Tulsa, on the other hand, has been trying to overcome a surprisingly slow start all season after limping out of the gates and falling all the way to the basement of the division with a 15-21-2-1 record. The Oilers have righted the ship over the last 20 games, though, going 12-4-4-0 to slowly climb back up the Mountain.
Tulsa has been able to win with both offense and defense during the run. It started with defense during a 5-1-3-0 run that saw them outscore opponents 24-17, an average victory of 2.67-1.89 over the nine games. The offense has taken its turn over the last 11 games, outscoring opponents by an average of 3.90-2.75 (43-33). When it is all added together, the Oilers have been averaging 3.35 goals for and 2.50 goals against per game while racking up 28 of a possible 40 points over the last 20 contests.
The Oilers stay in South Dakota for two more monumental showdowns with the Rush this weekend. The action continues Saturday night with Batman Night that will feature Rapid City in Batman sweaters and Tulsa dressed as Joker. The squads will then meet for a Sunday matinee inside the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center before the Oilers head back to Oklahoma for a weeknight clash with the division-leading Allen Americans.
- Saturday, February 29, Tulsa @ Rapid City 8:05 p.m. CT
- Sunday, March 1, Tulsa @ Rapid City 5:05 p.m. CT
- Tuesday, March 3, Allen @ Tulsa 7:05 p.m. CT
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