Ice-O-Topes Summon Magical Comeback Win Over Isles
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - The Springfield Thunderbirds (23-17-1-4) morphed into the Ice-O-Topes on Saturday night and completed a magical comeback against the Bridgeport Islanders (19-18-7-1) to win 5-4 in overtime before a sold-out MassMutual Center.
The opening 20 minutes had action of all kinds, as both Joel Hofer and Cory Schneider were at their acrobatic best in their goal creases, stopping a combined 28 shots in the first period alone. Schneider's best work came on a pair of saves back-to-back off a Will Bitten breakaway and a rebound chance by Nikita Alexandrov. On the same play sequence, Hofer showed his athleticism in denying Ruslan Iskhakov on a counter-rush.
Bad blood was also a constant in the first 20 minutes, as the squads combined for 24 first-period penalty minutes, including a set of fighting majors to Greg Printz and Paul LaDue. The Ice-O-Topes had each of the three power plays in the first, but Schneider and the Bridgeport penalty kill stifled the red-hot Springfield man advantage, keeping them off the scoresheet.
With just 1:29 left in the first, the Isles did finally strike first as a Dennis Cholowski point shot glanced off Hofer and right to the waiting stick of Arnaud Durandeau, who jabbed the rebound in from a severe angle on the left-wing side to make it 1-0 for Bridgeport on the winger's 10th goal of the year.
Special teams were so much a part of Springfield's previous success during the streak, but in this contest, Bridgeport turned the trick on Springfield, scoring on each of their first two power plays in the second. First, it was Durandeau beating Hofer from the middle of the slot area over the stick side to make it 2-0 at 3:53.
At 10:40, William Dufour added to the Bridgeport power play success, moments after Schneider made a denial on a Springfield shorthanded chance. Dufour beat Hofer off the inside of the post on the glove side, making it 3-0.
In need of a spark, the Springfield penalty kill provided just that at 14:37 of the second, as Jake Neighbours roared up the left wing, circle the goal mouth, and stuffed a wraparound off of Schneider and in to cut the lead to 3-1 heading into the third. The goal was Springfield's league-leading ninth shorthanded tally, as well as the first one allowed all year by Bridgeport.
Springfield's fourth line gave the Ice-O-Topes more momentum early in the third as Drew Callin redirected a Steven Santini point wrister through Schneider at 3:22 of the final period, cutting the Bridgeport margin to 3-2.
Bridgeport appeared to spoil the comeback when Erik Brown one-timed a Jeff Kubiak pass through Hofer at 5:41, upping the Islanders' lead to 4-2.
Undeterred, the 'Topes rallied back and just 1:07 later, Matthew Highmore crashed the net, received a beautiful drop pass from Martin Frk, and beat Schneider to cut the deficit to 4-3.
With the Thunderdome in an uproar, Springfield got even when Matthew Peca found Tyler Tucker with a cross-crease pass at 12:39, and Tucker one-touched it through Schneider, evening the score, 4-4.
Hofer and Schneider fended off some dangerous chances from both sides over the final seven minutes of regulation, and for a fourth time in the season series, overtime was needed. Like the prior three, it was the Springfield side that would come away victorious.
With precious little time left in overtime, at 4:27 of the five-minute period, Neighbours flipped a puck toward the left corner. Schneider attempted to swat the puck forward to start a counter rush, but instead threw it right back to Neighbours, who teed off with a slapper that beat Schneider on the blocker and propelled the Ice-O-Topes to a 5-4 victory, their first and only lead of the night.
Neighbours' tally, his ninth of the season, was also his fourth game-winner and second overtime goal against Schneider and Bridgeport this year.
Following time away for the All-Star break, Springfield attempts to extend its team-record win streak to nine games on Friday night at 7:05 p.m. as they visit the Rochester Americans at Blue Cross Arena.
Thunderbirds fans can reserve their seats for the 2022-23 season and lock in the best prices and member benefits by calling (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visiting www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.
-- SPRINGFIELD THUNDERBIRDS -
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Springfield Ice-O-Topes celebrate win
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