TULSA, OK— It wasn’t quite a do-or-die, but after watching a four goal lead over the Allen Americans evaporate before their eyes on Wednesday night in Texas, the Tulsa Oilers had to play like it was to restore faith in themselves and in their fans.
That’s exactly what they did as they held the Americans to a single goal to triumph over the division champions 5-1 in front of 2,607 in the BOK Center. Jon Booras got the home side on the board first at 5:50 of the first period when he went five-hole (between the legs) of Allen goaltender Riley Gill to give the Oilers the early lead. Booras took a crossing pass from Tommy Mele and slid the puck through Gill and into the net.
One goal is never enough against the Americans so after the intermission just shy of three minutes into the second period when Steven Perfetto slipped the puck underneath Gill on a hard charge to the Allen net to open the lead up for the home team. Tulsa’s third goal was the end result of a neat passing pattern in front of the Americans goal. After a near turnover near the top of the Allen zone, the puck bounced back to Booras to create a 3-on-0 rush for the Oilers. Booras dished to Drew Fisher who fired a cross-crease pass to Adam Pleskach and with Gill committed to his left, Pleskach chipped the puck into an open net for a three-goal cushion and his first goal of the post-season after leading the Oilers in scoring during the regular season.
The only mark in the game came from former Oiler Gary Steffes. He snapped the puck in past Tulsa goalie Kevin Carr near the seven minute point of the second period to ruin the shutout Carr was pitching. The goal of the evening however was a shorthanded goal by Sean Erickson. Erickson, who recently returned to Tulsa after two seasons in Rapid City, snatched the puck up in the Oilers zone, cruised in on the Allen net and sent a cannon-like slap shot that rang off the post and into the net to give the home team, who was shorthanded a 4-1 edge.
Even though the Oilers lead was one of comfort, or would have been if they were playing any team OTHER than the Americans, as the second break came to an end thought among the Oilers faithful were flashing back to the epic implosion on Wednesday night.
Luckily, though the Oilers did shift into a more protective mode in the final 20-minutes they remained active on the pressure and it wound up paying off with a Tommy Mele goal six minutes into the third period. After being denied an open net goal after he couldn’t settle the puck down, Mele then stole the puck at the Allen blue line. He surged in with a neat back to fore shift and buried the puck behind Josh Rumpel for the final goal of the night.
Mele’s first goal of the series put the finishing touches on the triumph and gave Tulsa its largest margin of victory in a playoff game since a 7-3 win over the Colorado Eagles on April 1, 2005, ten years and 16 games ago.
Mele also led all skaters with a +3 rating and eight Oilers registered at least a point in a game that was played with a combative tone by both sides. The teams combined for 23 infractions and a total of 54 penalty minutes. Tulsa went 1-for-7 on the power play and has scored a power play goal in every game of the series. Americans’ winger Chad Costello, the ECHL’s leading scorer in the regular season, was held without a point and Spencer Asuchak, who entered the game as the league leader with six playoff points, was also held off the board and finished with a -4 rating.
They covered the Allen forwards tight with their sticks constantly moving and cutting off the passing lanes. The Americans were extremely chippy in their play, delivering punishing body check, but the Oilers refused to be intimidated. They played as if Wednesday night’s debacle never happened, and that was a very good thing indeed.
Crucial to the Oilers success was the stellar performance of goaltender Kevin Carr. He made 28 saves on 29 shots and withstood a lot of abuse from the Americans who parked themselves in front of his goal.