T-Birds Look to Take Down AHL's Top Team Saturday

Feb 18, 2017

Springfield, MA- The Springfield Thunderbirds (18-23-7-2) ended their home losing streak on Friday, and now they will look to build on it as they host the AHL's top club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (37-12-3-0) at the MassMutual Center on Saturday for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop. 

Hosting the Utica Comets on Friday, It was the home-standing Thunderbirds that opened the scoring on this night on an innocent looking shot from MacKenzie Weegar at 5:30. With traffic in front, Weegar flipped a wrister in the direction of Juho Lammikko, who screened Richard Bachman and allowed the Weegar shot to have eyes for the net and create a 1-0 Thunderbirds edge.

The lead would only last until the 9:05 mark, however, as Borna Rendulic scored in his third straight game for Utica on a beautiful wrister over the stick of Mike McKenna to tie the game, 1-1.

McKenna’s 15 other stops in the first stabilized things for the Thunderbirds, who used the second period to springboard their way to the lead.

First, on the Thunderbirds’ first power play of the night, a simple shot from the right wing by Jayce Hawryluk created a rebound for Chase Balisy, who beat Bachman from the left side to put Springfield ahead, 2-1 at 7:42.

Just over three minutes later, after he served a minor penalty, Ryan Horvat picked up his second helper on the night on a perfect cross-ice feed off the rush to Shane Harper, who beat Bachman upstairs to give the Thunderbirds a 3-1 lead at 10:46. 

With Utica threatening on another power play in the final minutes of the period, Springfield instead used the man disadvantage to extend their own advantage, as Lammikko moved into the offensive zone, used a defender as a screen, and beat Bachman with a short side wrist shot at 17:20 to make it a 4-1 game heading into the third period. 

Utica made things interesting early in the third when Chad Billins made it a 4-2 game at 4:38 of the final period. The Comets then had a huge chance to get closer with a four-minute power play late in the frame, but the Thunderbirds’ penalty kill successfully survived on a night where they went a perfect 6-for-6 with a man down.

Paul Thompson sealed it with a goal in the final minute off the third assist of the night by Horvat at 19:12. It was only the third time this season that the Thunderbirds scored five goals in a game, and it ended their 10-game losing slide on home ice. 

The matchup with the Penguins is the first meeting between the clubs since the Penguins' Jake Guentzel led Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to a 5-2 win on Dec. 27 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. Guentzel has since been called up to the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins. Springfield won the only prior meeting between the clubs at the MassMutual Center on Oct. 29. Chase Balisy scored the overtime game-winning goal in a 2-1 Springfield win, anchored at the other end by Mike McKenna's 27 saves. McKenna ended Springfield's 10-game losing skid on home ice on Friday with 32 saves against the Comets.

Following Saturday's matchup, the Thunderbirds take to the short road on Sunday to visit the Hartford Wolf Pack at 5:00 p.m. ET at the XL Center.

Interested in being part of the next era of AHL hockey in Springfield? Springfield Thunderbirds Ticket Memberships start as low as $12 per game and feature the most exclusive benefits, including a commemorative jersey. For more information, fans may call the Thunderbirds ticket office at (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.

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