With just 6:44 left on the overtime clock in the BOK Center and only 2,634 fans watching Tuesday night, Denver forward Garett Bembridge slid a hockey puck beneath the splayed legs of Tulsa goalie Shane Madolora scoring a goal that ended the season for the home team and sent the visitors into the second round of the Central Hockey League playoffs.
In game six the Oilers came back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game at 4-4 when the third period ended. As per traditional playoff overtime rules, full 20-minute periods with five players and a goalie are played instead of the normal method of a four-on-four five minute period followed by shootout rounds. The first goal wins the game, which could have potentially sent the Oilers into a decisive game seven back in Denver had they scored, but it wound up giving the Cutthroats a 5-4 overtime win and the opportunity to move on.
The one thing that head coach Bruce Ramsay and his team can say is that they fought well. Tuesday night’s game was one of the best comebacks for the Oilers in the 2013-14 season. They fell behind 3-0 after Steve Kaunisto scored with a little over two minutes remaining in the first period, then when the second period dawned Cam Reid struck quickly, making it a 2-0 lead with a wrist shot on an odd man rush. Finally, a really soft goal was scored by Troy Schwab, who flung the disc in past Madolora from just inside the Oilers blue line.
It gave the visitors full command of the game at that point, and chased some in the regrettably out of the arena early.
At 12:34 of the second period, the Oilers finally woke up. Forward Ben Gordon tapped home a rebound of a Drew Fisher shot to ruin Denver goalie John Griggs to cut the Cutthroat lead to two goals. Then the Tulsa power play unit struck for only the second time in 21 opportunities a minute and eleven seconds earlier when Todd Robinson zipped home a shot with Griggs behind a screen to bring the home team to within a goal of a tie game. The goals in the second period were only a hint of what was to come.
A.J. Gale returned the two goal advantage to Denver at the 3:50 mark of the third period when he sent a laser beam shot from the left circle that threaded a needle between Madolora’s glove and the left post. The Oilers comeback then re-engaged at 6:44 when Adam Pleskach hopped on a Cutthroat turnover and scored, then rookie Scott Macauley netted the equalizer at 9:44 to force overtime.
After a shot rings off of the post in a hockey game, more often than not you’ll see a goalie pat his glove or tap his stick on the post or crossbar when it deflects the puck and saves a goal. In the case of Denver goalie John Griggs, he owes the goal in the BOK Center a steak dinner because the iron behind Griggs managed to rob Ben Gordon of the game winner and helped the Cutthroats start the rush that ended in Bembridge’s game-and-series winner.
The story actually begins at the ending, which is a little confusing but the Oilers would have never got to this point if it were not for the warrior spirit in each player and their coach. That is to say that had they not won on the Denver ice over the weekend, the series would have ended much less remarkably in the Denver Coliseum instead of at home. It didn’t lessen the blow but it made losing game six at home somewhat of an honorable thing.
On Friday night the Oilers defeated the Cutthroats 6-2 in the only game that could be called a blowout…the other games had been decided by no more than two goals…and it showed the depth of character that the team had when the chips were down. In that game, six different Tulsa players got on the board and they had full command of the game. It was of little consequence when Denver put the puck in the net twice in the third period.
That game evened the series at two games apiece and set up game five, where another epic battle was waged on Saturday night. In that game, despite being in the throes of the beginnings of an undisclosed illness Denver goalie Kent Patterson was superhuman in the crease, turning aside 52 Oilers shots, including 21 alone in the third period. Tulsa’s shooting frenzy was triggered by the Cutthroats scoring a power play goal early on in the game.
The series between Tulsa and Denver was indeed the sum of its parts this time around and it wound up being a lot more entertaining than the other times Tulsa has made the post-season, where quick exits have been the norm. It is also a testament to how the league has matured in 22 years because regular season dominance was not a factor in the 2014 playoffs. Parity among the teams has taken the place of monster or “Death Star” teams of the past in the CHL and that has been a long time coming.
On Tuesday night, the Oilers were eliminated by the second seed Cutthroats and in a stunning turn of events the #1 seed Missouri Mavericks…a team the Oilers could not defeat until the final weekend of the regular season were beaten in double overtime by the eighth seed Arizona Sundogs. The Sundogs upset win was the first time in league history that the regular season champions were beaten in the first round.
In the end, the loss for the Oilers on Tuesday night extends one of the more dubious losing streaks in Central Hockey League history, while it denies Tulsa any chance at the championship trophy for the 21st time, it also extends the streak began in 1994 of being winless in first round playoff series that are best-of-seven series. In 1994, the Oilers defeated the Oklahoma City Blazers in seven games to make the finals, and were eventually beaten by the Wichita Thunder that year.
Tulsa finishes the 2013-14 season at 36-33-3, combining the regular season and playoffs wins and losses. In the series both teams scored 18 goals apiece, and Tulsa led all but one of the six games played in shots on goal. As he did during the regular season, Ben Gordon led the Oilers in the playoffs with four goals, with his line mate Ryan Menei following him with two goals and two assists.
The Oilers will return for their 23rd season in the Central Hockey League in October.