Apr 6, 2019

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -  The Springfield Thunderbirds (31-27-8-5) vanquished prior demons in the state of North Carolina, knocking off the Charlotte Checkers (48-17-7-1) by a 5-3 final score on Saturday night inside Bojangles' Coliseum. The win was Geordie Kinnear’s first head coaching triumph in Charlotte against his former team.


Charlotte showed why they have dominated first periods this season when Martin Necas quickly transitioned into the Springfield zone before snapping a right wing shot under the crossbar behind Chris Driedger to make it a 1-0 Checkers lead at 4:23 of the period.


Springfield answered the league’s top team in short order to tie the score less than three minutes later when Anthony Greco ripped a one-time slapper over the shoulder of Alex Nedeljkovic for his 28th goal of the season. The blast was also Springfield’s first shot of the game at the 6:41 mark.


The Thunderbirds’ top-ranked power play had three chances in the opening period, including a stretch of 5-on-3 time for 1:38 off a Nedeljkovic delay of game minor, but the Checkers’ top-ranked penalty kill got every penalty dispatched.


Driedger also did his part to keep the Checkers from extending their advantage, as he made a sparkling blocker save on the dive to deny Steven Lorentz of what seemed to be a sure goal.


The Checkers’ persistence did eventually restore the lead at 16:47 when Aleksi Saarela answered Greco’s 28th goal of the year with his own 28th goal of the season, as he beat Driedger from the left circle moments after a Charlotte power play expired. Charlotte carried the 2-1 lead into intermission while outshooting Springfield 13-5.


Power plays continued to be squandered in the second period. Springfield let a four-minute power play slip through their fingertips in the opening half of the period, while the Checkers could not take advantage of a Springfield delay-of-game minor.


Driedger and Nedeljkovic traded saves for the first 17 minutes of the period, but the Charlotte netminder made one egregious hiccup to let the T-Birds tie the score. As he came out to move the puck behind his net, Nedeljkovic inadvertently put it right on the tape of his former teammate Cliff Pu. Pu, in turn, turned it back to the front of the net, where Julian Melchiori moved in from the left point and unleashed a slap shot that found the twine to tie the game, 2-2, at 17:12 of the second.


Both teams cracked their power play slumps in the final period, beginning with Springfield’s Jean-Sebastien Dea, who one-timed a pass from Jayce Hawryluk past a sliding Nedeljkovic to give the Thunderbirds a 3-2 lead at the 4:31 mark of the final period.


Charlotte answered back with their own strike at 9:18 when Julien Gauthier stationed himself in front of Driedger and redirected a Necas pass into the back of the net to tie it up, 3-3.


On this night, though, Springfield was too much for the Checkers, as Dryden Hunt broke the tie once and for all at 14:33, snapping a centering pass from Dea in behind Nedeljkovic. The play began when Hawryluk pressured Dennis Robertson, creating the giveaway behind the net to set up Dea and Hunt.


With Charlotte going to a 6-on-5, empty-net attack with 3:25 to play, the Thunderbirds and Driedger held on for the first 90 seconds before Dea sealed the victory on an empty net tap-in set up by Hunt.


The trio of Hunt, Dea, and Hawryluk combined for 10 points on the night and nine in the third period alone. Driedger picked up a third straight goaltending victory with 33 saves to extend his wins total to 16.


The Thunderbirds look for a two-game weekend sweep of the Checkers when the clubs reconvene for a 1:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday from Bojangles’ Coliseum.


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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