Mar 9, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - In a tightly contested game, start to finish, the Springfield Thunderbirds (25-24-7-5) fell to the Hartford Wolf Pack (26-27-6-3) in overtime by a final of 3-2 on the 3rd Annual Pink in the Rink Night at the MassMutual Center. 6,793 witnessed the overtime contest in a sold out Thunderdome.


The Thunderbirds, feeding off the crowd’s energy, got a chance on the power play at the 8:27 mark in the first period when Steven Fogarty was assessed a minor penalty for hooking, but were unable to convert on the man advantage. The Wolf Pack, however, had different fortunes on their first man advantage.


At the 16:06 mark, Jean-Sebastian Dea was assessed a two minute minor for hooking and 52 seconds later, Matt Beleskey took a point-to-point pass by John Gilmour and slapped it home, giving Hartford a 1-0 lead at the 16:58 mark. That tally broke a streak of 26 consecutive successful penalty kills by Springfield dating back to Feb. 22.


14 seconds later, the Thunderbirds answered right back as, Harry Zolnierczyk picked up a loose puck and marched into the Wolf Pack zone and backhanded one past Brandon Halverson, tying the game at one goal aside heading into the first intermission.


Repeating the first period pattern, Hartford opened the second period scoring at the 4:59 mark on their first shot of the middle stanza. Vinni Lettieri took a pass from Fogarty in the middle of the ice and wristed it past rookie netminder Alex Sakellaropoulos, giving the Wolf Pack a 2-1 lead. The T-Birds’ newest goaltender finished his night with 24 saves in his AHL debut.


Like the first period, Springfield’s response was swift. Anthony Greco took a pass from Ryan Horvat on the left-wing side, and after a nifty step into the middle, he wristed it past Halverson to tie it up, 2-2, just 1:42 after the tally by Lettieri. It marked the third straight year in which Greco scored on Pink in the Rink Night.


Just a minute later, the T-Birds broke into the Hartford zone itching to un-tie the score, as Riley Stillman cranked a short range a bid from the right side, but Halverson reached up and across the net mouth with the glove and snagged it, preserving the 2-2 tie into the third period. Springfield outshot Hartford 24-13 through two periods.


Penalty kills got much more work in the final period, beginning with Springfield’s, which killed off a Matt Mangene minor in the opening quarter of the final period. With the game still tied into the closing minutes, Ville Meskanen was given a double-minor penalty for high-sticking Riley Stillman and drawing blood in the process. The Wolf Pack, though, would not have to kill off the full four minutes. Not even two minutes later, with 3:03 to play in regulation, Zolnierczyk was penalized for interference.


Zolnierczyk’s and Meskanen’s penalties were both killed off by their respective teams, and the game reached overtime. Springfield’s league-leading power play then received another golden opportunity to win it when Gabriel Fontaine took a delay of game minor in the opening minute of overtime, but after scoring power play goals in their prior five games, the Springfield power play well ran dry on Saturday night, as Hartford survived the flurry.


With 1:06 left in overtime, John Gilmour picked up a loose puck along the near boards and raced in on a breakaway before beating Sakellaropoulos through the glove side, giving the Wolf Pack a 3-2 win. It was Gilmour’s second overtime winner over the Thunderbirds this season.


With one point in their pocket and points now in five of their last six contests, the Thunderbirds will look to get back to the win column on Sunday in Providence for a 3:05 p.m. matinee with the Bruins inside the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

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