WICHITA, Kan. – Ryan Van Stralen has been a tremendous late-season pick-up for Wichita Thunder head coach Malcolm Cameron and on Saturday night, he proved his worth once more, potting two goals — including the game-winner, as the Thunder forced a game six of the Mountain Division Semifinals on Monday night in Wichita.
The intensity level was palpable during the pregame warmup, when the two teams met at the redline to exchange pleasantries. Some shoves and stick jostles were exchanged, but no punches were thrown.
For the fourth time in the first five games of the series, Wichita got on the scoreboard first. At 7:03 of the first period, Evan Polei scored on a breakaway to give Wichita a 1-0 lead. The marker was Polei’s second of the playoffs and the Thunder forward now has goals in back-to-back games.
Less than 90 seconds later, Colorado would generate an answer when forward Ryan Harrison hustled down the right wing boards, slicing through the right circle and beating Shane Starrett on top of the crease to tie the game at 1-1.
Just over four-and-a-half minutes later, the Thunder would hop back in the lead just minutes later when forward Brayden Low swung and bashed a bouncing puck out of midair and into the back of the net to give Wichita the 2-1 edge, a lead Wichita would hold onto for the remainder of the period. It was the second-year forward’s first career playoff goal.
In the middle stanza, the Eagles would draw first blood when Julian Nantel snagged a pass in neutral ice that would spring him on a breakaway and allow him to snap a shot from the between the circles past Starrett just 3:02 into the middle frame to square the game at 2-2.
But during a Colorado power-play in the middle stages of the period, Mark MacMillan would capitalize on a mishandled puck by the Eagles and race in all alone, beating Joe Cannata shorthanded to give Wichita a 3-2 lead. The Thunder assistant captain now has goals in back-to-back contests.
Less than four minutes later, another break down in the Eagles zone left Van Stralen alone in front of the net to tip a centering pass into the cage and stretch Wichita’s lead to 4-2 with 3:55 left to play in the second period.
At the end of the second, a scuffle broke out between Dyson Stevenson and Ryan Olsen to the right of Starrett. The end result from that would be that the Thunder Captain would sit an extra two minutes in the box and Colorado would open the third on the man-advantage.
Working to fight back to level-footing in the game, Colorado came out firing on all cylinders in the final period. During the final period, Wichita was outshot 20-4 by the Eagles, and surrendered two goals in the frame. The first goal came when forward J.C. Beaudin tipped a shot from the point past Starrett to cut the Thunder’s advantage to 4-3 at the 5:50 mark of the period.
Still down by one and with less than two minutes to play, Colorado would pull Cannata in favor of the extra attacker and the move would pay off when defenseman Jake Marto fired a pass from the top of the circle to the top of the crease where forward Drayson Bowman would redirect it into the net. The goal tied the game at 4-4 with only 87 remaining in regulation and would push the game to overtime.
Early in the overtime period, the Thunder dumped the puck in behind the Colorado defense, Cannata played it back to Collin Bowman, whose pass was intercepted by Van Stralen and flipped a backhander over the Eagles’ netminder to give Wichita the 5-4 win.
With the win, Wichita improves to 14-7 all-time in playoff overtimes and 5-12 all-time in game five’s.
Game six is Monday night in Wichita. Faceoff is set for 7:05 pm CT/6:05 pm MT.