TULSA, OK – The end-of-season drama continues for the Tulsa Oilers.
Embarking on their final season road trip, the Oilers are looking to lock up the eighth and final playoff spot in the ECHL Western Conference, a spot which they have been dueling with the Quad City Mallards in the last few weeks.
As road trips go thus far the Oilers have been fairly successful. After falling 5-3 to the Mallards last Friday night, the Oilers rebounded and defeated the Evansville IceMen 3-2 and then handed a decisive 4-1 loss to the Missouri Mavericks last night.
In Quad City (Moline, IL) on Friday night, in a pivotal game, the Oilers had the opportunity to draw within two points of the Mallards by defeating them. It was not to be. The Oilers have not been very successful on the road this season and they came up short once again.
Newly returned goalie Jussi Olkinuora was between the pipes for Tulsa and he was solved twice in the opening 20 minutes by Sam Warning and Tanner Eberle, the Mallard forwards netting goals about 60 seconds apart. The Mallards carried that lead through the first break until Tulsa’s Ben Murphy cut the home team lead to one in the second period’s ninth minute with his first professional goal. Matt Carey resumed the home teams two-goal advantage when he put the puck between the legs of Olkinuora three minutes after Murphy’s mark. Warning increased the Quad City lead to three goals (4-1) with nearly a minute remaining in the second period.
Christophe Lalancette scored for Tulsa to cut the Quad City lead to 4-2, and that situation held fast until late in the third when Olivier Archambault put the game out of reasonable reach with a goal to make the game 5-2 Mallards. Eric Drapluk got the Oilers’ third tally but it was yet another situation of too many goals needed, too little time and the horn sounded on a 5-3 Mallards victory. That win propelled the Mallards five points ahead of the Oilers and strengthened their grip on the final playoff spot.
On to Indiana for a night with Evansville, a night where the IceMen would be playing their final home game as the Evansville ECHL franchise. The IceMen will be dormant for the 2016-17 season before moving to Owensboro, Kentucky. A Southern Professional Hockey League franchise will take their place in Evansville
Adam Pleskach got his 21st goal of the season, deflecting a Phil Brewer shot past Evansville goalie Scott Greenham to give the Oilers a 1-0 advantage. Andrew Harrison evened the score at one when he flicked the disc past Olkinuora, who was making his second start since returning to the Oilers from Manitoba.
Pleskach pushed Tulsa back into the lead midway through the second period and Phil Brewer added to it to give the Oilers a commanding 3-1 lead through the middle frame. Andrew Turgeon put the IceMen into a threatening position in the third period, but they failed to nab the equalizer and Tulsa emerged with a 3-2 victory and two crucial points in the standings.
From there, it was on to Independence for a date with the Mavericks. Despite the overall success Missouri has seen this season against the rest of the ECHL, one of the pebbles in their skate boots has been the Tulsa Oilers, who earlier in the season halted their impressive home win streak and put the brakes on a road win streak in the BOK Center in February. Should the stars align for the Oilers and they make the post-season, they will be matched with Missouri and that would prove to be a very interesting series indeed.
That said, the Oilers scored early and often in the game last night and emerged with an impressive 4-1 win in Missouri’s arena. Ben Murphy, Adam Pleskach, Mathieu Gagnon, and Brian Nugent all dented the scoreboard for Tulsa, while Josh Holmstrom got the lone goal for the Mavericks. It probably wasn’t the best potential playoff preview for Missouri, but it sure improved the Oiler points situation moving into the final three regular season games that will be against Tulsa’s oldest and deepest rival through two leagues, Wichita.
Right now, the Oilers are still on the outside looking in, one place out of the ECHL Western Conference Playoff grid in ninth place with 73 points. Going forward they have the potential to take six points in the next three games to give them 79 points at season’s end. Quad City is the team they are chasing and their magic number is three. They also hold the tiebreaker should the two clubs wind up tied at the end. So needless to say it’s a nail-biter in the Oiler nation as the regular season comes to its conclusion.