TULSA, Okla. – Playoff hockey returned to Tulsa on Friday night and Ryan Menei turned in a performance worthy of the stage and the moment. The right-winger tallied two goals on the evening including the game-winner with 1:24 remaining in the third period to elevate the Oilers past the Denver Cutthroats for a 4-3 win in Game 1 of the first round playoff series.
Rhythm and tempo were nowhere to be found in the opening half of a first period mired in choppy starts and stops, frequent puck freezes by both goaltenders, and tentative play by both sides. The Cutthroats netted the first goal of the series at 12:27 of the first frame when Vincent Arseneau tipped Aaron MacKenzie’s shot through Tulsa goalie Shane Madolora. Just 92 seconds later, Daniel Barczuk ripped a wrist shot from the near circle over the pad of Madolora to give the Fish a 2-0 advantage.
The Oilers answer came within 45 seconds thanks to rookie forward Adam Pleskach. As the puck slid toward the Denver blue line, Pleskach positioned himself in front of Cutthroats’ goalie Kent Patterson and re-directed a shot from Craig Cescon into the net. Pleskach, who tallied 33 times during the regular season, notched the first playoff goal of his career and cut Denver’s lead to one. At 17:38, Ben Gordon threaded a pass to Menei on top of the Denver crease and the Winnipeg native roofed a backhand over the blocker of Patterson to level the contest at 2-2.
In the second period, the Oilers took their first lead of the night on a contribution from another rookie forward. Blair Macaulay zipped the puck over Patterson’s shoulder at 8:17 to provide the home side with a 3-2 edge. Tulsa’s lead evaporated in a matter of minutes as Cutthroats’ center Troy Schwab buried a breakaway opportunity to even the score at 3-3 at the 10:46 mark of the middle frame.
Early in the third, with the contest still knotted at 3-3, Denver winger Garett Bembridge was all alone at the side of an open Oilers’ net. The CHL MVP was robbed by a diving Madolora who extended the paddle of stick to seal the post and take what would have been a sure goal away from the league’s leading scorer.
The game remained deadlocked until the Oilers capitalized on a neutral zone turnover in the closing minutes. Pleskach’s pass from the neutral zone sprung Menei on a partial breakaway and the seventh-year sniper beat Patterson underneath the glove for his second lamp-lighter of the game. With Patterson pulled in the final minute, the Oilers blocked a barrage of Denver shots and held on for their first playoff victory since April 19, 2011.
Menei led all skaters with three points (2 goals, 1 assist) and Madolora recorded 21 saves to earn the first playoff win of his career. Tulsa went 0-for-4 on the power play but outshot Denver 26-24 for the game.
The Oilers hold a 1-0 series lead heading into Game 2 on Saturday night at 7:35 p.m. at the BOK Center.
With Tulsa Oilers team release
Contact the photographer: firstname.lastname@example.org