by Eddie Gregory I
Wenatchee scored twice in the final minutes of the third period then Murphy Stratton won it in overtime in a stunning come from behind 4-3 win over the Express. The loss for the Express was their 8th straight and 10th in their last 11 games. Click here for boxscore
It took a little while for the Express to adapt to the style of a Wild team who dressed just 15 skaters. Kolby Matthews held Wenatchee at bay to keep the game scoreless highlighted by a breakaway save off Christophe Fillion.
That save helped spark the Express who began to ramp up their game. During this run for the Express many of their top offensive producers have collectively gone into slumps. One of those players was Connor Gregga. But the first year forward busted his funk in spectacular fashion. He took a pass in stride from Jared Power then cut around a Wild defender then slid home his 19th of the season for a 1-0 Express lead. For the Minnesota State committed forward it was his first point in 8 games.
The lead stood into the latter minutes of the second period when it was extended by Jack Cameron who picked up the puck just inside the Wild blueline and slid a low shot under Austin Park on Cameron’s 3rd of the season and a 2-0 Express lead.
It was a defenceman at the other end who would help cut the lead in half just 46 seconds later. Brandon Koch’s point shot was tipped in front of by Nathan Iannone past Matthews to cut the Express lead to 2-1 after 2 periods.
With the one goal lead in the third period the Express were in playing well during the frame protecting it. Josh Wildauer is another Express veteran who had gone into a slump recently. But he brought an inspired effort to the rink Sunday. He was diligent and hard on the puck all game long.
Wildauder got tangled up with Jacob Modry behind the Wild net behind the play. When the players separated Wildauer hustled out of the zone to get back on side as the Express came up ice. He got out of the zone in time to take a pass then leave it for a speeding Christian Sanda who scored on a backhand for what appeared to be a big insurance goal with 5:27 to play. Sanda snapped his 13 game goalless drought in the process.
It was shortly after this goal that Wenatchee put on one final desperate push. The Express appeared to be holding it off well.
Then the tables turned with 2 minutes to play. Juliano Santalucia was hit from behind deep in his own zone and was shaken up on the play but no penalty was called. Jordan Schulting came to the defence of his fallen teammate but he came out of the sequence as the only player penalized.
Wenatchee scored right away on the powerplay with a point shot from Chad Sasaki with 1:41 left in the third period to cut the lead to 3-2.
Sasaki then played a role in the equalizer saucing a pass to the Express line that was knocked down by Marko Reifenberger who scored in a breakaway with exactly a minute to go to tie the game at 3.
The stunned Express appeared to shake off the effect of the two quick goals once the game went to overtime.
Pito Walton in the opening minute found himself alone in front of the net but was stoned in tight by Austin Park. Then Jack Cameron was stopped on a 2 on 1 a minute later. Walton was denied a second time of the overtime winner on a rebound chance of a Connor Gregga shot.
In the final minute the Wild got their chance after a Christian Sanda pass back for Josh Bruce eluded the Express forward allowing Murphy Stratton to walk in on a breakaway and he made no mistake beating Kolby Matthews on a backhand to give the Wild the 4-3 win.
Sunday’s game was the final home game for the Express in the regular season. They will play their final 4 games on the road in Powell River, Cowichan Valley, Vernon and Surrey.