TULSA, OK — For the Tulsa Oilers, it was a situation they had faced countless times in the past quarter-century. To reach the postseason, they would have to win out, and a team had to lose…or in the case of this season, TWO teams had to lose at least once for the club to go dancing.
In simpler language, it was a nightmare scenario.
Beginning last Wednesday night and concluding on Saturday, Tulsa would have to defeat the Idaho Steelheads once and the Rapid City Rush twice and either the Wichita Thunder or the Allen Americans had to lose once for the Oilers to crack into the Western Conference playoff field of eight teams.
For a team that has demonstrated a disturbing inability to score goals, it was a daunting task to say the very least. The best example of this came in Wednesday night’s contest with the Steelheads, who are quite possibly the hottest hockey club in the ECHL West. Beginning the game, the Oilers unloaded a barrage of shots onto Idaho goaltender Tomas Sholl in the first period, some 16 shots in all, and couldn’t light the lamp.
Idaho, on the other hand, scored a goal on their third shot of the game when Eric Sweetman ripped the first goal into the top of the net from the right circle. Justin Parizek buried the second on a centering pass from behind Tulsa’s net to make it 2-0 after one. Max French extended the Steelheads lead to 3-0 in the second period with a deft redirect off of a faceoff. By that time, Tulsa coach Rob Murray had seen enough and he replaced starter Jake Hildebrand with Devin Williams for the second straight game.
In the third period, Oilers captain Adam Pleskach stabbed the disk through Sholl to ruin his bid at a shutout but Steven McParland eliminated any hope of a comeback on a breakaway to set the final score at 4-1.
The loss made the playoff hill the Oilers had to climb that much steeper, but still possible to climb. The only problem being is that when it comes to defeating lesser quality teams in the ECHL, the Oilers just aren’t that good at it.
On Friday night, the home team paid tribute to the 1983 movie “The Outsiders” by wearing commemorative jerseys celebrating the movie and conducting an auction with the proceeds going to “The Outsiders House Museum.” Oilers fans had high hopes that their team would “Stay Gold” and prevail over the Rush but with a goal deficient offense and a defense that tended to be optional at times, it would be a daunting task.
The opening period of Friday’s game once again saw Tulsa use Rapid City goalie Christian Frey as the target in a shooting gallery, but it was the Rush heavy on the BOK Center big board as Peter Sivak netted the only goal of the opening 20 minutes late in the period to gain an early lead. The Oilers tied the game when Charlie Sampair cleaned up a rebound at the edge of the crease and lifted it over Frey to make it 1-1 early in the second period. The Rush went back in front 2-1 when Alex Kromm blasted a shot from the point through a screen.
Sampair scored again, this time early in the third period, to tie the score at 2-2. The stalemate extended through the remainder of the third period, through overtime and into the shootout, where Rapid City’s Daniel Leavens scored the only goal in a three-round shootout to win the game for the Rush. It was the ninth straight shootout loss for the Oilers, who dropped every decision solved by a shootout this season.
Meanwhile, in Allen the Americans managed to come-from-behind to beat the Idaho Steelheads in overtime 5-4, rendering Tulsa’s season effectively over despite having one game left to play. It didn’t matter how Wichita did.
The Saturday game between the Rush and the Oilers featured fifteen goals between the two teams, six of those goals coming in the third period, and featured goals from Ryan Tesink, Pleskach, Roman Ammirato, Evan Richardson, Kyle Rhodes and Sam Wilbur and featured the Oilers pulling within a goal of tying several times. The Rush, however, played the game like it meant something and bested Tulsa by three marks to bring the Oilers 26th consecutive season, and the first season of the Rob Murray coaching era to a close. The Oilers finished four games over .500 at 31-29-3-9 and collected 74 points on the season.
Murray now goes to work deciphering what went wrong, what went right, and preparing for his sophomore season behind the Tulsa bench in October 2018. Not much is know as to what he might have in store for the 2018-19 campaign other than it is going to happen.
Tulsa will host an NHL exhibition game between the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers in September. It will be the first exhibition game featuring an NHL team in Oklahoma since the Arizona (then Phoenix) Coyotes faced the Edmonton Oilers in 2002 in Oklahoma City.