T-Birds Early Lead Doesn't Hold Up in HersheyMar 5, 2017
Hershey, PA- The Springfield Thunderbirds (22-26-8-2) took a quick two-goal lead but could not hang on in a 4-2 loss to the Hershey Bears (31-17-8-2) on Sunday at the Giant Center.
The Thunderbirds wasted no time jumping to the early lead against a Hershey team that entered having scored the game's first goal more than any other team in the AHL. With two Bears watching him closely,Rihards Bukarts creatively spun a beautiful pass from the right wing wall across the crease to Graham Black, who sneaked down the back door and beat Vitek Vanecek at 2:40 of the period to put Springfield on top, 1-0.
After the Bears were guilty of a tripping minor on the ensuing center ice drop, the Thunderbirds went to the game's first power play and made no mistake. After Jared McCann and Chase Balisy worked the puck off the wall, Matt MacKenzie crept into the right wing circle and blasted a shot that bled through Vanecek for a 2-0 Springfield lead at 4:11 of the first.
After holding the Bears at bay for the first 13 minutes, the Thunderbirds' defense would be tested under controversial circumstances when Anthony Greco was tossed from the game for a boarding infraction at 13:24. With a five-minute power play to work with, the Bears' normally-potent unit was stagnant and registered only a handful of shots over an unsuccessful stretch. The Bears, despite their power play advantage, only outshot Springfield 7-6 for the first period.
The two teams mustered only a handful of offensive chances through a tightly-checked second period, including a crossbar-ringing bid by Chris Bourque on a mini-breakaway for Hershey.
With time running out on the second period, the Bears finally got one past Brittain on a minor penalty power play in the final minute. Chandler Stephenson drew the attention of two Thunderbirds behind the net before neatly finding Stanislav Galiev to the right of Brittain. Galiev elevated his 19th of the season over Brittain's right arm to make it a 2-1 game with just 54 seconds left on the clock in period two.
The Bears entered the third trailing in the game, a position in which they had only won on one other occasion this season. However, with playoff desperation evident in their play, the Hershey attackers made sure the night would not get away from them. First, Christian Thomas took a beautiful pass from Galiev to tie the game at 6:55.
With the Thunderbirds on their heels, the Bears found the difference-making knockout at 13:27 from an unlikely source, as recent ECHL call-up Kelly Zajac found a rebound on the door step next to Sam Brittain and tapped home the game-winning goal at 13:27.
Zajac would add an empty netter after a last-ditch power play for Springfield came up empty to round out the scoring and complete a season series sweep for Hershey over the Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds take to the road again for their second meeting with the Syracuse Crunch on Friday, where they may see their old teammate Mike McKenna for Syracuse following a deadline day deal that brought Adam Wilcox to the Thunderbirds. Wilcox was removed from his first start as a Thunderbird in Springfield's narrow 5-4 loss to Lehigh Valley on Friday.
Interested in being part of the next era of AHL hockey in Springfield? Springfield Thunderbirds 2017-18 Ticket Memberships start as low as $12 per game and feature the most exclusive benefits, including a commemorative jersey and brand new Collectors Mug. For more information, fans may call the Thunderbirds ticket office at (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.