Friday, 04.07.2017 / 10:22 pm CT
By Alex von Keudell
Needing a regulation victory to avoid the fourth seed in the first round of the playoffs, the Wildcats fell just shy as a third period lead collapsed in a 5-4 defeat against the Corpus Christi IceRays.
Far and away, the Wildcats’ most glaring issues of late have come in first periods. On Friday night, the Cats looked extremely strong in the opening twenty minutes.
A few near misfires by the IceRays were as close as Corpus Christi would come to opening the scoring, as the Cats outshot them 15-4 in period one. Ricky Carballo set up Blake Ripley for a point-blank chance in front of Tomáš Vomáčka, but the Czech goaltender flashed his glove and turned the puck aside.
CJ Regula would get a glorious chance to break the ice on a partial breakaway down the slot, but Vomáčka shut the door. The teams entered the first intermission scoreless, with the Cats having dominated the tempo.
A far more eventful period took place in the second. Carballo opened the scoring at 23:34 on a Wildcats power play after he angled the puck off Vomáčka from behind the IceRays’ net to give the Cats a 1-0 lead.
Just a minute and 29 seconds later, Griffin Loughran responded after receiving a nice saucer pass in the neutral zone from Cole Gammer. Loughran dipped his shoulder and rifled a backhand shot over Jared Dempsey’s blocker to tie the game 1-1.
Nick Rosa scored another power play goal for the Wildcats just 34 seconds after the IceRays had tied the game. The Wildcats Captain wheeled into the slot from the left circle and slung a shot past Vomáčka’s blocker and into the net to give the Cats a 2-1 edge.
It only took 17 seconds for the Rays to answer. A hectic scramble right in front of Dempsey forced the Cats’ goaltender to make a huge lateral chest save followed by a reflexive right pad save, but Josh Tripp cleaned up the loose puck and buried it past Dempsey to re-tie the game at two, Tripp’s tally capped off a three-goal surge in 51 seconds.
The score finally went unchanged for a while, as both teams exchanged scoring chances in the middle stages of the contest. Finally, at 36:36, Matt Hanewall snuck a shot through. Jonathan Waring, who’s had a dominant season against the IceRays, released a wrist shot from the right point which ricocheted off the side of the net. Hanewall hacked at the puck and managed to angle it off of the back of Vomáčka’s right skate and into the net.
Early in the third period, Ilya Skvortsov was given a four-minute double minor for spearing, which proved to be an enormous turning point in the game. Not only was he ejected from the contest, but the IceRays capitalized and scored a power play goal to tie the game 3-3.
The Rays earned their first lead of the night at 54:01, shortly after dropping another power play chance. David Thomson fired home a shot after two strong saves were made by Dempsey. Unfortunately, the second save he made forced the puck out to the left circle where Thomson was waiting to clean up any rebound.
Needing a regulation victory to avoid playing the Lone Star Brahmas in the first round of the playoffs, the Wildcats made things interesting with about three minutes remaining. From the left side of the slot, Waring ripped a heavy snap shot through a screen to beat Vomáčka glove-side and tie the game back up for the Cats.
In an ultimate act of desperation, the Wildcats pulled Dempsey from the net in the last minute to try to avoid overtime. Unfortunately, the risky tactic did not pay off. Krueger hit the empty net from his own zone, and iced the game 5-4 for Corpus Christi.
The Wildcats will play the Lone Star Brahmas in the first round of the playoffs. Games 1 and 2 will be at NYTEX Sports Centre in North Richland Hills, TX on Friday, April 14th and Saturday, April 15th. Time of puck drop is to be announced. Tomorrow night, the Wildcats will close out the 2016-2017 regular season in Corpus Christi. Puck drops at 7:05 pm CT at the American Bank Center.