Thunder romps, 26-17, to close regular season

Playoff position depends on Toronto's last game

April 04, 1999|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

The Thunder, knocked out of first place for the first time all season with a loss in Toronto on Friday night, answered with a vengeance last night.

It was not unlike a spiffy sports car matching maneuverability and horsepower with a farm vehicle with historic plates the way the home team handled the Syracuse Smash, a team the Thunder lost to on the road two months ago.

Everybody, or just about everyone wearing a Baltimore uniform, got involved, as the team struggled through just one bad patch and won going away, 26-17.

"We knew we could run with this team," said the Thunder's Paul Cantabene of Syracuse, "and it didn't take us long to get into an up-and-down game. Once that happened, we felt we could take over."

In the first six minutes alone, while rushing out to a 5-1 start, the Thunder had four more man-advantage rushes it failed to convert.

Of course, that was before Gary Gait got started.

Gait, who didn't get involved over the first 22 minutes or so, had another spectacular game, crowding nine goals and two assists into his evening.

Silent until the 8: 24 mark of the second period, Gait, who has had 19 goals and 25 points in his past three games, scored the first of his three hat tricks in the next four minutes.

"When Gary is playing like he did tonight," Cantabene said of his teammate, "he's nearly impossible to stop.

"You know, it's a little surprising to me we haven't been scoring more goals right along. We haven't scored like we can since the second game of the season, when we got 20 goals. We are more athletic than some of the teams we face, and that means a lot."

With its regular-season record closed at 8-4, the Thunder, trailing Toronto by a half-game after Friday's loss, sits and hopes the Rock (8-3) loses its finale against New York (6-5) next weekend.

If Toronto and Baltimore tie, the Thunder gets the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs because it outscored the Rock in the two games the teams split. Postseason play commences April 17.

After giving up the first goal of the game to Syracuse, the Thunder scored the next five and ended the period on top 5-2.

It was the first of many runs by Baltimore, which faltered only in the third period, when it was outscored by the visitors 9-4.

The Thunder led 15-7 at halftime and appeared as if it could name its score when Syracuse suddenly came alive after intermission. Three power plays got the Smash to within five points and, later in the session, it closed to 18-16.

Then Gait came alive again. He scored four of the next five goals, as Syracuse wore down and wasn't getting back on defense.

Numerous were the odd-man breaks the Thunder was able to capitalize on.

The 26 goals were within two of the league record established by Buffalo two years ago.

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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