Mavericks fail on chance to make up ground in playoff chase

Bill Althaus
Kansas City Mavericks forward Nick Pastujov (20) tries to outrace Wichita defenseman Mathieu Gagnon (75) to the loose puck in Thursday's game at Cable Dahmer Arena. Wichita scored four third-period goals to break open a tight game for a 6-1 win.

For two periods Thursday night at Cable Dahmer Arena, the highly anticipated matchup between the Kansas City Mavericks and Wichita Thunder had a playoff feel.

"We have to approach this as a best-two-of-three playoff series because every game we play the remainder of the season is like a playoff game," Mavericks coach Tad O'Had said as his team trailed the Thunder 2-1 going into the final period.

That's when the Thunder took total control, scoring four goals – including their second shorthanded goal – to run away with a 6-1 victory in front of a shell-shocked crowd that headed for the exits before the final gun.

"I had a good feeling after the first two periods," O'Had said after his team fell to 21-22-6-2 to remain in seventh place in the Western Division with 50 points. "We started out OK, then did pretty well, trailing 2-1 going into the third period, and then we were just awful.

"Our PK (penalty kill) unit has been so strong all season (fifth in the ECHL) and we give up our second shorthanded goal to end the game.”

O’Had placed the blame on himself.

“Look, we weren't ready and I put that all on me,” he said. “I have to find a way to get this team to play 60 minutes of hockey. We played all right for the first two periods, then I don't know what happened in that third period. It was embarrassing."

Wichita's Stephen Johnson stole the puck at 1:59 of the first period and gave the Thunder a quick 1-0 lead with an unassisted shorthanded goal.

Wichita's Stephen Johnson (19) beats Mavericks goalie Matt Greenfield for a shorthanded goal just 1:59 into Thursday's game at Cable Dahmer Arena. The Thunder scored two shorthanded goals while handing the Mavericks a 6-1 loss.

That was not as damaging as it might have been because just over two minutes later, Bryan Lemos tied it on a goal off assists from Darik Angeli and Marcus Crawford.

"At that point of the game, that was a big goal,” O’Had said. “It got the game tied and got the guys on the bench and everyone excited.”

Midway through the first period, Garrett Schmitz scored what proved to be the game-winner on an even-strength goal.

Again, it appeared Lemos had scored to tie it at 15:06. But after an official review, the goal was waved off, and O'Had said that was a turning point.

"The guys on the bench were really excited when we tied it up, and then it was waved off,” O’Had said. “When a goal is called back, that's tough, especially against a team like Wichita (that owns an ECHL best 17-5-1-0 record on the road), but we still battled and we were excited about that third period."

Charlie Combs padded the Thunder's lead to 3-1 at 4:19 and Peter Crinella, Matteo Gennaro and Spencer Dorowicz followed – with Dorowicz scoring the second shorthanded goal at 18:00.

Kansas City Mavericks forward Boston Leier (22) tries to slip past Wichita defenseman Sean Allen (2) while chasing after the puck in their ECHL Western Conference game Thursday at Cable Dahmer Arena. Wichita claimed a 6-1 win.

"After being on the road for the past few weeks, this was not the type of game we wanted to play in front of our fans," Mavericks captain Rob Bordson said. "Tad called a timeout late, and told us we have two more games, and we need to turn things around.

"And I agree. We laid an egg in the third period after playing pretty well in the first two periods. It's difficult to explain, especially after we just took two of three games up at Utah."

O'Had said there will be changes to the lines for Friday's game, the second of three consecutive home games for the Mavericks against the 32-15-4-1 Thunder, who are second in the ECHL’s Western Division with 71 points.

The Mavericks have 20 games left this season and have to climb past Tulsa, Rapid City and Utah to secure the fourth and final playoff spot in the division.

"We've talked many times about how every game is important," Bordson said, "and we're running out of games. We need to win our home games and put together another winning streak."

Kansas City Mavericks forward Lane Scheidl (9) is shoved away from the net by Wichita defenseman Sean Allen (2) as Thunder goalie Evan Buitenhuis pounces on the puck in Thursday's game at Cable Dahmer Arena. Wichita went on to a 6-1 win.