Jan 17, 2018
Springfield, MA – The Springfield Thunderbirds (19-21-1-1) coughed up a 4-2 lead in the third, but responded in the shootout to down the Hershey Bears (17-17-3-4) by a final of 5-4 at the MassMutual Center on Wednesday.
The red-hot Springfield offense took a backseat in the very early going against a suddenly resurgent Bears attack that had scored just three times in their last three games.
The Bears made quick work of a couple of early rebounds in front of Sam Montembeault, with Wayne Simpson banging home a loose puck just 1:09 into the festivities to make it a 1-0 Hershey lead.
Not even 90 seconds later, Hershey again went to the offensive, this time with rugged fourth-liner Anthony Peluso chasing down his own deflected shot to beat Montembeault on the glove hand to make it 2-0 Bears at 2:32.
Despite building an early hole, the Thunderbirds offense then awoke from its early game struggles to strike twice in rapid-fire succession. First, it was Alex Grenier stationed in front of Hershey goaltender Vitek Vanecek, and the Thunderbirds All-Star received a perfect feed from Juho Lammikko behind the net to beat Vanecek on the stick side to make it 2-1 at 3:02.
The Bears lead would be erased just as quickly as it was decreased, as just 14 seconds later, the Bears coughed it up in the slot of their own zone. Curtis Valk alertly poked the puck into the center of the ice, where Dryden Hunt spun around to fire a wrister past Vanecek to make it 2-2 at 3:16. The goal was Hunt's fifth in four games, as the second-year pro extended his goal-scoring streak to four.
After the onslaught, the goaltenders settled down, with Montembeault far outnumbering Vanecek on the save counter. Vanecek only needed to make three saves after the T-Birds scored twice on two shots, while Montembeault stopped nine in a row after allowing two goals on the first three attempts he faced.
Vanecek's second period would be disastrous, despite the Bears getting chances in the early moments, including a post by Riley Barber shorthanded in the first 20 seconds of the period.
Hershey had the power play, but it was Springfield striking for its second shorthanded tally against Hershey in the span of a week. Grenier decided to skate around with the puck in center rather than clear it down the ice on the penalty kill. He gave Anthony Greco enough time to flash open down the left wing, and the speedster then snapped a wrist shot glove side past Vanecek at 7:45 to put Springfield on top for the first time, 3-2.
The penalty ended and the Bears' defense faltered once again, this time with Lammikko getting his second helper, tossing a soft feed to Maxim Mamin in the left circle. Mamin then showed a high level of skill in lifting a subtle backhander into the top shelf, again glove side past Vanecek at 9:41 to make it 4-2.
That goal spelled the end for the Bears goalie, as Pheonix Copley came off the bench in relief and made all seven saves asked of him to close the second. At the other end, Montembeault guarded the lead safely to the tune of nine second period denials.
Hershey would not go away quietly on this night, either, erasing a third period deficit for the second time against Springfield in two weeks thanks to goals from Dustin Gazley at 2:52 and Tyler Graovac at 17:47.
Despite the comeback from the Bears, Montembeault stayed valiant in the net to turn away 12 shots in the third to get the Thunderbirds into overtime. A cautious 3-on-3 turned up nothing and for the first time in the series history, the two teams went to the shootout.
The shooters had the advantage in the skills competition, as Montembeault denied Wayne Simpson, but every other shooter on both sides connected, culminating in Blaine Byron's second shootout goal of the season and first shootout winner. Byron moved in slowly on Copley and deked subtly to the backhand to give Springfield its fifth consecutive win, tying a franchise record. Byron's winner followed up finishes byLudwig Bystrom and Curtis Valk.
The Thunderbirds' homestand continues following Wednesday's tilt with the second matchup of the season against the Binghamton Devils. The T-Birds will be going for a franchise record sixth straight triumph. Puck drop on Friday night is set for 7:05 p.m. ET at the MassMutual Center.
Springfield Thunderbirds fans are encouraged to visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com to learn more about Thunderbirds Ticket Memberships. Packages include a wide range of benefits, including a refillable collector’s mug. For more information or to order now, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.
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