Tanner Karty tied the game just over the midway point of regulation, but Garrett Schmitz responded with 44.7 seconds left in the second period, and it proved to hold as the difference maker to lead the Wichita Thunder to a 2-1 win over the Rapid City Rush on Saturday night. The loss keeps the Rush in the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division with 25 games remaining, and still games in hand on the three teams chasing them for that position.
Wichita struck first in the contest, and provided the only goal of the opening frame. With just 3:41 gone by in the game, Cedric Montminy was tripped behind the net by Wichita, forcing a turnover to the corner. The puck was sent to the slot area, where Shaquille Merasty fired a point-blank shot on net. It was stopped by Rush net-minder Gordon Defiel, but he appeared to be shoved into his net and the loose puck was knocked in by Stefan Fournier, giving Wichita a 1-0 lead (Merasty and Lane Bauer assisted).
Tanner Karty responded for the Rush in the second period, but the Thunder had the last word to take a lead into the last act. Karty scored at 11:41 of the second period, burying a no-look, behind-the-back pass from Stephane Legault past Thunder goalie Mitch Gillam, squaring the game at 1-1 (Legault and Beau McCue assisted). Garrett Schmitz, however, re-established Wichita’s lead in the final minute of the second. With 44.7 seconds remaining, the puck came back up to Schmitz at the Rush blue line, and he zipped a shot through traffic past a screened Defiel, giving Wichita a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes (Fournier and Crane assisted). The Rush outshot the Thunder 14-7 in the final two periods of play, and despite numerous rallies, including with Defiel pulled for the extra-attacker late, couldn’t muster a tying goal and fell to Wichita 2-1.
Gordon Defiel, making his third consecutive start with the Rush, stopped 22 of 24 shots in the loss, his first defeat in regulation since his acquisition (2-1-1-0 with the Rush, 2-3-1-0 total).