Saarela, Hunt, Lead T-Birds to Sweep in CharlotteFeb 16, 2020
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Springfield Thunderbirds (28-23-2-0) again erased an early deficit en route to a 4-3 win over the Charlotte Checkers (29-18-4-0) on Sunday afternoon inside the Bojangles’ Coliseum. It was the first weekend sweep for the T-Birds in Charlotte in their history.
For a second straight game, the Checkers power play would draw first blood. This time around, the T-Birds went down two men on back-to-back penalties just 12 seconds apart, and with just seconds remaining on the disadvantage, Gustav Forsling blasted a one-timer from the right point that squeaked between the legs of Ryan Bednard to give Charlotte a 1-0 lead at 12:48 of the opening frame.
Bednard was otherwise perfect in an opening period onslaught of 15 shots from the Checkers, including five from Forsling alone. Anton Forsberg was not as busy in the Checkers’ goal crease, as he turned away eight shots in the opening period and went almost eight minutes without seeing a shot at the onset of the game.
The Springfield power play, rejuvenated by Rodrigo Abols’ overtime tally the night before, struck on its first chance at 6:35 of the second with former Checker Aleksi Saarela rifling a one-time, cross-box pass from Henrik Borgstrom over the glove of Forsberg to tie the score, 1-1.
Charlotte would vault back to the lead at 11:51 when Dave Gust picked up a puck in the left circle off a shot block and snapping it over the shoulder of Bednard to give the Checkers their second lead, 2-1.
This lead, however, would last but 46 seconds. Borgstrom created an amazing play by throwing a between-the-legs pass through a defender to a cutting Ethan Prow, who backhanded a rising shot into the cage to tie it up again, 2-2, at 12:37.
The 2-2 tie carried into the early stages of the third as Forsberg and Bednard continued to trade strong netminder plays and saves. After Springfield had eight of the first nine shots in the third without a result, the top line finally broke through at 12:42. After Roland McKeown had a puck hop past him at the left point, Saarela and Dryden Hunt set sail for the offensive zone in a 2-on-0. Saarela held onto the puck as long as possible before slipping a pass back to Hunt, who slammed it through the legs of Forsberg to make it 3-2 with 7:18 to play. It was Hunt’s second goal and third point in two games on the weekend.
Those two would not be finished, though, as Saarela hit Hunt for an empty-net walk-in with 1:20 to play, which would turn out to be the game-winner after Steven Lorentz got Charlotte back to a 4-3 deficit with just 30 seconds remaining.
Bednard improved to 4-1 in his five AHL decisions as a netminder, stopping 33 of 36 for the victory, while Forsberg had 27 saves in defeat.
Springfield continues its push toward the Calder Cup playoffs as they return home for the first time in 20 days on Friday, Feb. 21 against the Hartford Wolf Pack. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m.
For Springfield Thunderbirds ticket information, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.