Rocket Erase Deficit to Steal Victory from T-Birds on Sold out Pucks N' Paws Night
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - The Springfield Thunderbirds (28-26-8-5) fell victim to a comeback by the visiting Laval Rocket (28-27-6-6) in a 3-2 overtime defeat on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 6,793 inside the MassMutual Center.
Penalties ruled the first period of play as the two clubs combined for eight minors and 16 penalty minutes. Springfield took advantage of one of Laval's five infractions via a 5-on-3 advantage.
After Daniel Audette cleared a puck out of play to put his team down a man, Nikita Jevpalovs intercepted a puck in center ice and appeared to be ready to move down the ice for a shorthanded breakaway. Inexplicably, the Rocket winger closed his hand on the puck and carried it for a couple of strides, resulting in a third separate delay-of-game minor on Laval in the opening 20 minutes.
With that gift of a two-man advantage, Julian Melchiori loaded up a one-time cannon from the right wing circle and slammed a Harry Zolnierczyk pass over the stick hand of Michael McNiven to make it 1-0.
Springfield held the 8-7 shot edge through 20 minutes, but McNiven was very stable despite the low shot total against him. His best work in the first was a left-pad lurching save on a Jonathan Ang shorthanded breakaway chance in the opening half of the frame.
At the other end, Alex Sakellaropoulous made his second career AHL start and did not have many challenges in the opening period, denying all seven attempts against him.
After another penalty kill to begin the second, Springfield went back on the offensive, and Jean-Sebastien Dea whistled a wrist shot over McNiven to make it 2-0 less than two minutes into the second.
That 2-0 score would remain until the final minutes of the period. With Springfield on the power play, the Rocket picked up their 13th shorthanded goal of the season as Jevpalovs danced to the slot and beat Sakellaropoulous on the stick side at 18:04.
Springfield could not escape the period unscathed in the closing seconds, and Alex Belzile spotted Cale Fleury moving up from the right point. From the right wing circle, Fleury beat Sakellaropoulous on a perfect wrist shot to bring the game to a 2-2 tie heading into the third.
A tense and tentative third period went scoreless, with both teams leaving a glorious opportunity on the table to break the tie. Alexandre Alain missed a backhander into a wide-open net on the Laval side, while Adam Rockwood missed his chance late in the third when he chose to look for a pass on a 2-on-1 deep in the Rocket zone.
Overtime ended quickly on an innocent looking drive to the net by Xavier Ouellet. The Rocket captain carried it down the left wing side and roofed it over the short side shoulder of Sakellaropoulous to hand the rookie netminder his second straight overtime defeat. It was Ouellet's second overtime goal in two games against the T-Birds inside the Thunderdome. Springfield finishes the season with a 2-0-2-0 record against Laval.
The T-Birds round out their three-game weekend with a 3:05 p.m. matinee on Sunday against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins inside the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.
Springfield Thunderbirds 2019-2020 ticket memberships are on sale now and include the best benefits of being a Thunderbirds ticket holder. To learn more about memberships and single game tickets, visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com or call (413) 739-GOAL (4625).
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