Thunderbirds are 2019 Commissioner's Cup Champions
Elmira, NY - The season is over, the year of the Thunderbird is complete. Jan Salak's goal 35 seconds into overtime of game 4 solidified Carolina's dream season ended in complete victory.
Game 4's atmosphere was added to by the return of Elmira captain Ahmed Mahfouz who served a one-game suspension during game 3, which the Enforcers won 7-2 to force Saturday's contest.
The scoring started less than six minutes in when Beau Walker had a puck knock off his leg and deflect into the net for the game's opening goal. Half-hearted protests by Elmira would be in vain and Carolina's 1-0 lead would hold throughout the remainder of the period. Elmira's goalie Nick Niedert was strong in the opening 20 minutes of play despite the deflection goal, as the Thunderbirds held a 12-2 lead in shots through one.
In the second period, Elmira was the one pushing the play early and scored twice in a span of 3:23 to take the lead. First it was Kyle Stevens on the power play taking a beauty of a centering feed from Brandon Vuic for the tying goal. Then Nathan Pelligra skated an incredible end-to-end run and then centered to Mitch Atkins, who's backhand went past a sprawling Christian Pavlas. The Enforcers 2-1 lead would hold despite the second period shot totals reading 15-9 in favor of Carolina for a 40 minute total of 27-11.
Heading into the third with a one-goal deficit it wouldn't take the Thunderbirds long to tie it up. 14 seconds in to the 3rd period Jan Salak banged home a rebound coughed up by Niedert in the crease and we had a tie hockey game with nearly a full period left to play.
Later in the third the Thunderbirds struck with a power play goal when Petr Panacek let one rip into the top netting and a Carolina's dreams were about nine minutes away from being realized. Panacek celebrated his goal in front of a large contingent of Carolina fans at First Arena.
Elmira wouldn't be silenced though, as Nathan Pelligra was credited with a goal that was disputed between referee and goal judge. While the referee was adamant on his signal into the goal, the goal judge behind Pavlas was indicating it did not go in as the red light never came on. After a conversation that took about a minute, but felt like much more, the referee's call of goal stood and we were tied 3-3 with about four minutes left.
Before regulation was over though Elmira gave Carolina the ultimate boost heading into the locker room. Stepan Timofeyev ran into Ray Boudiette from behind and was assessed a boarding minor with 20 seconds left in the third period. Elmira would kill off the third period and look forward to 1:40 of penalty kill to being overtime.
Carolina had other ideas regarding that penalty kill, Beau Walker carried the puck up ice on the opening shift spun from the left wing side to the high slot and fired a shot that Niedert saved but coughed up to Jan Salak who tapped it home to seal the Thunderbirds first championship in the FHL.
Christian Pavlas got the win with 17 saves on 20 Elmira shots. Nick Niedert took the loss with 43 saves in game 4.
Three Stars of the Game
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