5-2 win over Mississippi caps off epic comeback for Tulsa.
TULSA, OK– It’s a tad melodramatic to say but in many ways the Tulsa Oilers had a date with history on Saturday night as the deciding 5th game in the best-of-five opening round of the 2011 CHL Playoffs loomed large. While in the short term they had battled back from a 0-2 deficit to tie the series, snapping the “streak” was the long term goal.
It was Garry Unger’s 1994 Oilers team who had last won a playoff series. In that year, the Oilers won the then best-of-seven series 4-games to-3 against the now-defunct Oklahoma City Blazers to move on to face the eventual champions Wichita Thunder in the finals. Every other time the Tulsa Oilers had made the playoffs they have been stalled in the first round.
After that, when Tulsa reached the playoffs in1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2005 the Oilers flamed out before reaching the second round. Clearly, it would take a special team to break the cycle.
So it was that some 4,556 Oilers fans assembled in the amazing BOK Center with high hopes of seeing Bruce Ramsay’s squad throw off the stigma of being a hard-luck team and advance to the CHL’s Berry Conference semi-finals. From the opening face-off it was apparent that there was a different Tulsa Oilers team on the rink.
Jack Combs scored first, taking the puck around Alexander Pechurskiy’s net and shoving it past the Riverkings net minder on a wrap-around at the 6 minute mark of the first period. Then, at 14:01 Chad Costello fired a shot from the right corner at an impossible angle, rattled through the leg pad of Pechurskiy and into the net, giving the Oilers a 2-0 lead at period’s end.
Costello would score his second goal of the game and his fourth of the season off a Sean Erickson assist at 17:06 of the second period, giving Tulsa a 3-0 advantage as the middle frame closed. Two quick goals to open the 3rd period by Mississippi made Oilers fans hearts skip a beat as goals from Darrell Stoddard and Chris Auger narrowed the gap to one goal within the span of a minute.
It was the only point of the game where the Oilers seemed to be out of their all-out attacking mode. It seemed to light a fire under them as they quickly switched back to an offensive posture. Braden Wall scored at 6:13 on a laser-beam of a wrist shot that rattled through the legs of Alexander Pechurskiy. Marty Standish and RJ Linder got the assists.
Scoring ace Jack Combs scored the Oilers final goal 20 seconds later, at 6:50 of the 3rd period, and as the final seconds ticked off the BOK Center Scoreboard the Oilers fans in attendance cheered wildly. It was something they hadn’t enjoyed in 17 years, and while it wasn’t As thunderous a cheer as it might be in the 7th game of the finals, it was very satisfying indeed for the many die hard veteran fans who had stuck with the Oilers through the recent lean years that the team had been through.
Trevor Cann was nearly perfect in the game, turning aside 32 of the Riverkings 34 shots while Alexander Pechurskiy, who shined in his first two visits to Tulsa in the series saved 24 of the Oilers 29 shots at his net. Mississippi scored the only power play goal of the game, going 1-for-3 with the man-advantage. Tulsa was blanked on all 5 power play opportunities, but it didn’t matter.
The Oilers comeback was the sixth time in the modern-era CHL that a team has rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a deciding game in the best of 5 format..It’s the second time that a team has won three straight to win a series. The last time it happened was in the 2000 playoffs when Oklahoma City dropped the first two games of their series with Wichita and wound up winning the series.
With Saturday’s win the Oilers are now going to face the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs in the Berry Conference semifinals beginning Friday, April 14th. Bossier finished with a better win percentage than the Oilers did and therefore they have the home-ice advantage in the series. Tulsa will play the Mudbugs on the 14th and 15th, then Tulsa will host games three and four on April 19th and if necessary, the 22nd. If a 5th game is needed it will take place on April 23rd in the CenturyTel Center in Bossier.
Tickets for all Oilers playoff games are available at the BOK Box Office, Tickets.com, Tulsa area Reasor’s stores, and by calling 1-866-7BOK-CTR (866-725-5287). More information is available by calling the Oilers office at 918- 632-PUCK (7825).
Photo by Kevin Pyle.