T-Birds Survive Sound Tiger Scare, Win in Shootout

Jan 4, 2017

Springfield, MA - The Springfield Thunderbirds (13-12-4-2) had to go beyond regulation after allowing a late tying goal while shorthanded, but they recovered to thwart the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (17-14-0-1) by a final score of 3-2 in a shootout on Wednesday at the MassMutual Center.  

In a first period that saw both clubs have power play chances, nobody was able to strike. In the Thunderbirds’ case, no Springfield player could dent Jaroslav Halak, who was making his first AHL start in net since Feb. 24, 2008. The longtime NHL standout was a perfect 9-on-9 in the first period. Springfield had three power play chances in the opening 20 minutes, including a power play that carried into the second, but the Bridgeport kill stabilized.

At the other end, fellow veteran Mike McKenna was making his fourth straight start and fifth in the last six games, and he showed no signs of blinking, as he, too, went 9-for-9 on stops. 

Moments after killing the Springfield power play to start the second, the Sound Tigers then earned the next power play chance after Ryan Horvat was whistled for a boarding minor. However, as was the theme through 40 minutes, the penalty kills remained perfect, with Springfield doing the honors this time.

With the game back to 5-on-5 and with the pace quickening, the Thunderbirds flustered Bridgeport in the offensive zone and created a point blank chance.

Kyle Rau, playing in his first Thunderbirds game since Oct. 16 after spending almost three months as a Florida Panthers, saw the bouncing puck find him all alone deep in the offensive zone. With only Halak to beat, the diminutive sniper picked the top corner, clanging it off the crossbar and in for his first of the AHL season at 6:42.

The third period began the night’s dramatic happenings. It started with Bridgeport earning a 5-on-3 just over five minutes into the period on penalties by Shane Harper and Mike Downing. The Springfield kill, which finished the night 7-for-8, killed off nearly the full duration of the disadvantage, with captain Brent Regner leading the way from the back end in front of McKenna.

Finally, at 6:46 of the third, Bridgeport finally solved the Thunderbirds’ PK, as Bracken Kearns tapped a rebound home from the doorstep to make it a 1-1 game.

Springfield, though, would not let the tying goal define their undisciplined start to the third. At 14:29,Jayce Hawryluk picked up his first AHL point in leading MacKenzie Weegar in over the right wing side. Weegar snapped his team-best seventh goal of the season past Halak to make it a 2-1 Springfield lead.

The Thunderbirds then seemed destined for victory after Brody Sutter drew a two minute Bridgeport penalty with 1:42 to play. Not to be outdone, the Sound Tigers pulled Halak to get back to 5-on-5 and moments later, off a turnover in the Springfield zone, Steve Bernier slapped a one-time bid through McKenna to tie the game at 19:38.

In a night where penalties reigned supreme, each team earned a 4-on-3 power play in the five-minute overtime period. Hawryluk and Adam Pelech, however, were able to escape the box for Springfield and Bridgeport respectively, giving way to the shootout.

Jared McCann and Andrew Rowe traded goals in round one of the shootout, then the goaltenders, McKenna and Halak, continued to trade saves all the way into the shootout’s sixth round. In that frame,Tim Bozon fumbled the puck between the hash marks, only to see it skitter through Halak’s legs to give the Thunderbirds the advantage.

With a chance to seal the win, McKenna, who stopped three other potential game winning shots, turned aside Josh Ho-Sang with a sliding left pad save to give Springfield its first ever shootout win and, in turn, hand the Sound Tigers their first loss all season past regulation time. 

With the Thunderbirds win tonight, fans in attendance on Wednesday will have a chance to redeem theirJan. 4 ticket to receive a complimentary ticket to the next weekday game on Weds., Jan. 11 vs. Albany. 

Springfield next takes to the ice in Providence on Friday to begin a home-and-home series with the Providence Bruins. The two clubs return to Springfield on Saturday to welcome Rene Rancourt for a special appearance and anthem performance, presented by King Ward Coach Lines. Both games will drop the puck at 7:05 p.m. ET. 

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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