T-Birds Fall to First-Place Checkers
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - The Springfield Thunderbirds (21-21-6-4) could not overcome the first-place Charlotte Checkers (33-13-6-1) in a 4-1 loss on Friday night inside the MassMutual Center.
Thunderbirds All-Star goaltender Sam Montembeault had to be at his very best in the opening period, turning away the first nine shots he faced in as many minutes to begin the night. Included in Montembeault's body of work were point-blank stops on both Janne Kuokkanen and Jake Bean, as well as a shorthanded breakaway save on Haydn Fleury.
Springfield had the game's first power play chance, but could not get onto the board first, and Charlotte countered with a man advantage goal of its own. Nick Schilkey, who played with Springfield's Anthony Greco back in their collegiate careers, tallied his third goal in two games against the Thunderbirds, tapping home a centering pass from Patrick Brown at 9:40 of the first.
Charlotte got another chance to add to their lead with a second power play past the midpoint of the period, but the Springfield PK dug in to keep the deficit at 1-0. Springfield's best efforts went unrewarded through the final moments of the first, and the Checkers took the slim lead into the first intermission.
Nedeljkovic and the Checkers survived a Springfield push to maintain their 1-0 lead late into the second, and then Charlotte tallied two goals in rapid-fire fashion to extend its lead. Zach Nastasiuk took advantage of a Springfield pinch at the other end and lifted a wrist shot over Montembeault's glove hand at 16:11.
41 seconds later, Julien Gauthier parked himself at the side of Montembeault's net and gathered in a rebound off a Jake Bean shot to beat the Springfield netminder and make it 3-0.
After a scoreless frame for the first 17 minutes of the final period, Dryden Hunt finally broke up Nedeljkovic's shutout with a power play strike for his 19th goal of the season at 17:37 of the third.
With Montembeault on the bench, the Thunderbirds could not get any closer with an extra skater, and Steven Lorentz picked up an empty-net goal to finish the scoring with less than two minutes to play.
On Saturday, it's Hockey Night in Springfield presented by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts as the Thunderbirds host the Toronto Marlies at 7:05 p.m. The first 1,000 kids aged 12 and under will receive a Thunderbirds youth hockey jersey.
Fans looking to purchase tickets can do so by visiting www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com or by calling (413) 739-GOAL (4625).
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