CHARLOTTE, N.C.– The Springfield Thunderbirds (22-26-1-1) slumped out of the gates and could never recover in a 5-2 loss to the Charlotte Checkers (26-20-0-3) on Friday night inside the Bojangles’ Coliseum.
The start was far from ideal for Springfield on this night. After a scoreless opening eight minutes, the Checkers’ offense stormed out to a three-goal edge, beginning with an Andrew Poturalski net crash from the left wing at 8:01.
Poturalski’s 13th of the year was quickly followed by Andrew Miller’s 13th, as he beat Evan Cowley on a clean breakaway from the red line in. The glove-side wrister made it 2-0 just 47 seconds after Poturalski’s opening tally.
Springfield earned a power play and an invitation to get onto the scoreboard, but instead it would be the Checkers again cracking into the goal column. After a turnover in center by Springfield, Charlotte moved in on a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush, and defenseman Roland McKeown beat Cowley over the glove hand to make it 3-0 at 13:10. That spelled the end of Cowley’s evening and brought Sam Montembeault back in for his first AHL game action since his career-best 47-save masterpiece in Providence on Jan. 21.
The move seemed to spark the Thunderbirds offense, which finally got on the scoreboard at 16:32 to make it 3-1. After Charlotte leaked two players toward center ice in anticipation of a clear, the Thunderbirds kept the puck alive to Dryden Hunt behind the net. The winger waited just long enough for Curtis Valk to drive the center lane, where Valk touched a one-time snapper past Alex Nedeljkovic to make it a 3-1 game heading into intermission.
The T-Birds started period two on a power play with a chance to get the lead a goal closer, but again came up empty. The Checkers would not give Springfield any more life after that, as Miller popped a backhander through Montembeault just moments later to make it 4-1, and then Janne Kuokkanen fired home a missle from between the circles to make it a 5-1 game at 7:48 of the second. At the other end, Nedeljkovic kept things stable for the Checkers with 18 saves through two periods.
Springfield’s penalty kill came up with a productive success with almost five minutes of time to kill, but the offense would only get one goal closer. Thomas Schemitsch picked up his seventh of the season on a beautiful curl-and-drag move on power play in the final minutes to get the final score to 5-2. Springfield’s power play finished the night 1-for-7 while going 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
Nedeljkovic’s 19th win of the season produced 28 saves in the Charlotte goal crease. The win is Charlotte’s third in a row at home against Springfield in the season series.
The Thunderbirds get a chance at payback tomorrow night in a rematch at the Bojangles’ Coliseum at 6:00 p.m. ET.
Springfield Thunderbirds fans are encouraged to visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com to learn more about Thunderbirds Ticket Memberships. Packages include a wide range of benefits, including a refillable collector’s mug. For more information or to order now, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.