Highlights: Last Minute Goal Propels Spirit over Firebirds in Front of Capacity Crowd in Flint Friday
Flint, Mich. -Â After trailing by two goals in theÂ middle frame, the Firebirds battled back to tie the contest 4-4 where the game remained after two periods. However, a last-minute goal earned the visitors a 5 - 4 victory in front of a near capacity crowd of 3,800 fans at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center in Flint Friday night.
For Flint, Jake Durham lit the lamp to tie Nick Caamano at 67 goals, the third-most in franchise history. Jack Phibbs scored in his 200th-career game and both Ethan Keppen (Vancouver Canucks) and rookie Brennan Othmann found twine. Netminders Anthony Popovich and Marshall Frappier put on a goaltending clinic in a busy night at both ends of the ice. With the win, Saginaw claims the early 2 - 1 lead in the eight-game series for the I-75 Divide Cup, presented by Coors Light.
The Spirit found twine twice early in the game. First, DJ Busdeker passed from the right point to Danny Katic in the slot. Katic took the initial shot glove-side. Popovich made the pad save, but Damien Giroux (Minnesota Wild) lifted the rebound over the netminder's horizontal left pad for his 19th of the campaign just 53 seconds into the game. Next, Cameryn Baber gave Saginaw a two-goal lead at 2:30. Flint's defense lost control of the puck behind their own net, resulting in a loose puck to Popovich's left. Baber took multiple swings at it before eventually knocking in his own rebound for his fifth of the campaign, unassisted.
The 'Birds scored a power-play marker at 5:04 to cut the deficit in half. On the power play, Owen Lalonde passed from the left point to Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes) atop the left circle. Busby skated to the faceoff dot and attempted a far-side wrister. Frappier made the save, but Ethan Keppen redirected the rebound under the netminder for his tenth of the season.
The Spirit reclaimed their two-goal advantage on Flint's first penalty-kill of the contest. Giroux made a backhand pass from the left corner to Busdeker at the point. Busdeker found Cole Perfetti in the right circle and he sniped a shot just inside the near post for his 16th of the season at 9:40.
Flint pulled within one only seconds before the first intermission. Connor Roberts chipped the puck with a backhand from the left-wing corner. The puck went airborne toward the slot, where Brennan Othmann used a baseball-style swing to surprise Frappier and score his sixth of the campaign through the five-hole at 19:56.
First period shots favored Saginaw 15 - 14. Faceoffs were tilted in favor of the visitors also, with the Spirit winning 16 of 21 draws. Both teams scored a goal on their only chance with the man-advantage.
After more than half a period of intense end-to-end action, the Spirit scored their fourth of the game at 12:25 of the middle frame. Popovich made a glove save on a shot from just inside the blue line, but the rebound landed in front of the crease. Cole Coskey (New York Islanders) knocked the puck out of Popovich's reach toward the right circle and Katic found space behind Flint's sprawling netminder for his fifth of the season.
Less than three minutes later, Othmann carried up the left wall and launched a long-range shot on net. Connor Roberts was unable to corral the rebound to Frappier's right, but the trailing Jake Durham knocked the loose puck in for his 14th of the season at 15:15.
Late in the frame Othmann and Jack Phibbs broke free on a two-on-one from the neutral zone. With Saginaw's netminder hugging the post to his right to cover Othmann with the puck, a laser pass across the slot allowed Phibbs to one-time the puck on a back-door play. The goal was Phibbs' ninth of the season assisted by Othmann, logged at 17:52.
The Spirit once again had the upper-hand in shots by one, outshooting Flint 12 - 11 in the middle stanza for a forty-minute advantage of 27 - 25. Both clubs were unable to convert on one opportunity on the power play. The lead in faceoffs won was 29 - 17, advantage Saginaw.
The visitors turned up the heat in the third period, testing Popovich with several scoring opportunities. It was inside the final minute of regulation that Saginaw finally broke the tie and earned the victory. Perfetti carried across his offensive zone from the circle to the left, drawing the defense and then finding Coskey all alone for the back-door one-timer at 19:22.
Final shots 46 - 31 in favor of the Spirit. Flint finished one-for-two on the power play and two-for-three on the penalty-kill. Saginaw won 39 faceoffs and the 'Birds won 24.
These two clubs will meet again Saturday night in Saginaw. Firebirds' fans making the short drive north on I-75 are encouraged to wear orange to show their support for the team. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. (ET) at the Dow Event Center.
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