Gutsy, Determined 3rd Period Pushes T-Birds to Victory
Springfield Thunderbirds goaltender Joel Hofer stops the Charlotte Checkers
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Springfield Thunderbirds (19-11-3-1) emerged victorious on Tuesday night in come-from-behind fashion, knocking off the Charlotte Checkers (17-14-2-0) by a final score of 4-2 at Bojangles' Coliseum.
Springfield and Charlotte last met on Oct. 31, and the opening minutes resembled that of a chess match, with neither team generating much in the way of scoring chances through the opening minutes. The Checkers' two first-period power-play chances came up empty, and Springfield could not connect on one man-advantage of their own.
The Checkers used their power plays to harvest momentum offensively, and at the 12:32 mark of the period, they cleaned up on a loose puck in Joel Hofer's crease to take the 1-0 lead. Kole Lind dangled into the high slot with the puck before fluttering a wrister along the ice into Hofer's feet. Ryan Lohin got body position in front of the T-Birds goal and slipped the rebound under the goalie's legs to give Charlotte the opening tally.
That marker would be the only one in an opening period that saw the Checkers outshoot the T-Birds by a 13-5 margin. The game was tentative in terms of offensive chances in the second period's opening half, as Springfield could not generate offense on a second power play chance. The T-Birds dodged a bullet later when Cale Fleury flipped a point shot that eluded Hofer and clipped the inside of the post.
Hofer's steady play gave the offense a chance to get back even, and Sam Anas was in the middle of it again. Anas picked up a point in his sixth straight game when he carried the puck over the right-wing side in a 2-on-1 with Nikita Alexandrov. Anas slipped the past to the left-wing circle, where Alexandrov made no mistake, beating Devan Dubnyk upstairs to tie the game at 14:37 of period two.
The teams traded chances in a frantic finish to the second period, with both Hofer and Dubnyk coming up with big saves on high-quality scoring opportunities and ultimately taking the game to the third in a 1-1 tie.
The final frame began on the wrong foot for Springfield, as Henry Bowlby sneaked a left-wing shot through Hofer just 1:41 into the period to make it a 2-1 lead for Charlotte.
The Thunderbirds, however, answered right back with the fourth line providing the game-tying heroics just 1:02 after the Bowlby tally. Shawn Cameron, making his T-Birds debut, picked a puck off the left-wing corner boards and skated to the goal mouth. His initial try was blocked by Dubnyk, but Mitchell Balmas positioned himself perfectly at the left circle to snap the rebound home and tie the game, 2-2.
After being held off the board on its first two chances, the Springfield power play took to the ice at the 10:55 mark of the third with a chance to break the tie. Before the offense could come up with the clutch goal, though, it was a monstrous save by Hofer that kep Charlotte from taking the lead back. Carsen Twarynski picked up a loose puck in center and pulled away for a shorthanded breakaway opportunity. Hofer baited Twarynski into shooting the puck low, and the young Thunderbird goaltender quickly went into the butterfly to kick out the opportunity and keep the game even, 2-2.
Moments later, the man advantage turned the momentum of the game as Michael Kim's left point slap shot was deftly redirected by Keean Washkurak in behind Dubnyk, giving Springfield the lead for the first time, 3-2, at the 12:10 mark.
The final minutes would not go free of drama, as Charlotte went to a power play with just over four minutes to play. Despite an extended amount of time in the offensive zone, the Thunderbirds' penalty kill, which went a perfect 3-for-3 on the night, held the fort, and the club did the same when Charlotte pulled Dubnyk with less than 90 seconds to play. After fearlessly stepping out to block a shot, Josh Wesley battled through pressure to find Nathan Walker up the left wing, and the winger fired the puck over 100 feet down the ice and into the empty net to ice it, 4-2, with 20 seconds to go.
Hofer finished his fantastic evening with 29 saves on 31 shots for his ninth win of the season. By virtue of their win, the Thunderbirds moved to within three-thousandths of a percentage point of first-place Providence in the tight Atlantic Division standings.
The T-Birds and Checkers reunite for a grudge match on Thursday night back at the Bojangles' Coliseum. Puck drop once again is slated for 7:00 p.m., and the game can be seen on AHLTV and heard on NewsRadio 560 WHYN.
For more information on the Springfield Thunderbirds and to order tickets, please visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com. To learn more about becoming a Thunderbirds ticket member, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) to speak to a Thunderbirds representative.
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Springfield Thunderbirds goaltender Joel Hofer stops the Charlotte Checkers
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