The Wichita Thunder rode three power play goals to take a 7-4 win over the Rapid City Rush on Sunday afternoon in their final head-to-head meeting of the season.
The Thunder are now four points back of the Rush for the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division. The Rush still hold five games in hand in head-to-head matchups against Wichita with 24 games remaining in the season.
Despite suffocating offensive pressure by the Rush to start the game, it was the Thunder that left with a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Stefan Fournier scored in back-to-back games against the Rush when he collected the puck on the blue line and skated in virtually uncontested towards the Rush net. Fournier beat Rush net-minder Merrick Madsen to give the Thunder an early 1-0 lead with 4:18 left in the first period. Spencer Dorowicz and Vincent Desharnais assisted on Fournier’s goal.
Peter Crinella doubled Wichita’s lead with 6 seconds left in the first frame on their first power play of the game. Crinella deflected an Ostap Safin slot shot past a screened Madsen to make it a 2-0 lead, with Safin and Patrik Parkkonen assisting.
For a second game in a row, Tanner Karty provided the Rush with their first goal of the contest, striking once again in the second period.
With 6:34 gone in the second, Darian Romanko hit Karty with an east-west pass from behind the net on the short side. Karty settled the puck and rifled it over the shoulder of Thunder goalie Dylan Wells, cutting the Rush deficit to 2-1. Assists on the goal went to Romanko and Chris Leibinge.
Then near the end of the period, Wichita was on another power play when Garrett Schmitz knocked in a rebound in close range of the net to make it 3-1 with 1:28 left in the second period. Dorowicz and Jason Salvaggio assisted on Schmitz’s goal.
Wichita struck within the first minute of the third period, and never looked back, despite a late rally by the Rush.
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Crinella earned his second of the game, banking in a rebound on an odd-man break to make it 4-1 Thunder. Nolan Vesey had the lone assist.
Stephane Legault answered moments later on a zone entry sequence to cut Rapid City’s deficit back to 4-2.
With 4:55 gone by in the third, Peter Quenneville entered the zone and dished to Chris Leibinger on the far wall. Leibinger surveyed his options and found Legault crashing to the back door. He put the puck on Legault’s tape, and he pocketed his shot past Wells.
However, Wichita went back to the power play, and Garrett Schmitz rifled another shot past Madsen’s glove to extend the Wichita lead to 5-2 with 10:34 left in regulation, with Chris Crane and Jason Salvaggio assisting.
The Rush went to the power play of their own, hoping to inch closer to the Thunder, but surrendered a shorthanded goal.
After the Rush turned the puck over near the Wichita zone, Fabrizio Ricci and Patrik Parkkonen went on a two-on-none break into the Rush end. Ricci’s initial shot was stopped by Madsen, but Parkkonen banked in the rebound, making it 6-2 with 8:17 left in the game
Parkkonen struck again with a five-hole shot past Madsen, cleaning up a Stefan Fournier rebound between the hashmarks to give Wichita a 7-2 lead with 4:41 remaining in the game.
Quenneville softened the blow in the last two minutes of the game, winning a race to the puck and finishing with a flip shot over Wells’ glove to cut the lead to 7-3. Keeghan Howdeshell’s power play goal with 4.7 seconds remaining in the game to closed the contest with a final score of 7-4.
Merrick Madsen, starting and playing for the first time since Nov. 16 at Kansas City, took the loss, stopping 23 of 30 shots and falling to 1-3-0-0.
The Rush now return home for a three-game series against the Americans, beginning on Wednesday. Puck drop for the contest is at 10:35 a.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena.