DENVER, Colo. – Only 48 hours removed from their most gut-wrenching loss of the season, the Tulsa Oilers demonstrated a new level of resiliency on Friday night at the Denver Coliseum by bouncing back for a one-sided 6-2 victory in Game 4 to even their first round series against the Denver Cutthroats at 2-2. Tulsa’s six goals came from six different players and the Oilers led the contest wire-to-wire. Matthew Larke recorded a goal, two assists, and a +4 rating to pace the Oilers offense while goalie Shane Madolora turned aside 36 shots to thwart any possibility of a Denver comeback.
Four minutes into the first period, the offensive onslaught was started by Tulsa winger Ryan Cramer. After the Oilers won a puck battle along the boards, the puck came free to Cramer who ripped a wrist shot short-side on Kent Patterson to give his side a 1-0 edge. Cramer notched his first career playoff goal and the Oilers drew first blood for the first time in the series. Only 20 seconds elapsed and Drew Fisher pushed the Oilers lead to 2-0.
More grit and hustle along the corner boards by Blair Macaulay and Adam Pleskach freed the puck for Fisher who tallied his first goal of the postseason by whipping a shot through traffic in front of Patterson. Larke’s first point of the night was earned on a 2-on-1 pass that set up Kyle Bochek’s first goal of the series at 8:27 and swelled the Tulsa advantage to 3-0.
Mired in an 0-for-13 slump on the power play, the Oilers were finally able to break the curse late in the opening frame. Nathan Lutz’ blast from the blue somehow squeezed through a screen and ended up behind Patterson to give Tulsa its fourth goal of the period. The Oilers became the last team in the CHL playoffs to score a power play goal.
Up 4-0 in the second, Larke’s second set-up of the night was prettier than the first. At 8:14, Larke sped behind the Cutthroats’ net and drew the attention of the defense as well as netminder John Griggs, who took over for Patterson at the start of the period. Larke’s pass connected with a wide open Michel Beausoleil who buried a snap shot from close range for his first point of the postseason and 15th career playoff goal. Tired of assisting, Larke’s quick hands gave him his first goal of the series at 17:55. After Griggs fought off Bochek’s shot, the puck sat at the side of the Denver goalie and Larke tapped it home to give the Oilers an insurmountable 6-0 lead.
Kyle Fletcher spoiled Madolora’s shutout bid at 2:48 of the third and Denver center Troy Schwab scored at 8:18 to push his goal streak to four consecutive games. However, the contest was never in doubt over the final 20 minutes and the Oilers coasted to the win. Nine of Tulsa’s 10 forwards registered at least a single point and the Oilers were able to successfully eliminate all seven of Denver’s power play opportunities.
Through the first three games of the series, the Oilers had only been in front for a total of 4:58 but on Friday night, the Oilers led for 56 of the 60 minutes. The victory assures the Oilers of playing at least one more home game and pivotal Game 5 is slated for Saturday night at the Denver Coliseum at 7:00 p.m. Central Time.
Photographs by Ed Bailey: Ed.Bailey@prohockeynews.com