Bitten Buries Four, T-Birds Take 2-1 Series LeadJun 8, 2022
LAVAL, QC - The Springfield Thunderbirds rode an unforgettable night from former Montreal Canadiens draft pick Will Bitten to a 6-3 win over the Laval Rocket in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Springfield now leads the best-of-seven series, two games to one.
Things did not start auspiciously for the Thunderbirds, as Rafael Harvey-Pinard got the sellout Place Bell crowd up in arms with a one-time slapshot that beat Joel Hofer at the 5:51 mark of the first, giving Laval's its third straight 1-0 lead in the series.
As has been their case all year, though, the Thunderbirds were unbothered, and just 3:05 later, Springfield got the game back even. Corey Schueneman turned the puck over on a failed backhand pass out of his own zone. Nathan Todd stole it and worked a perfect give-and-go play with Nikita Alexandrov through the slot. Todd took the return pass and one-touched it past Cayden Primeau's blocker to tie the score, 1-1 at 8:56.
The 1-1 score stayed intact thanks to a pair of outstanding goaltending performances over the next 20 minutes from Hofer and Primeau. In the second period, Springfield had two separate 5-on-3 advantages, and despite numerous scoring chances, the power play was unable to score. It could have easily been a spirit-breaker for the Springfield offense, but the even-strength attack picked up the slack.
At 15:09 of the middle period, Dakota Joshua muscled the puck into the slot area, creating space to fire a turnaround shot at the goal. The initial attempt was blocked by a Laval defender, but Hugh McGing arrived in time to shuffle the rebound over Primeau's arm to give Springfield its first lead, 2-1.
2:30 later, the trio of Bitten, Joshua, and MacKenzie MacEachern were at it again. MacEachern worked the puck low to high to Steven Santini at the point. With traffic in front, Santini flipped it toward the goal. After a strange bounce near the crease, Bitten found himself in the right place at the right time to push the rebound into a vacant goal and make it 3-1 at the 17:39 marker.
The Rocket again would not go quietly into the intermission, as Schueneman got a step and beat Hofer from the left circle just 1:12 later, and the T-Birds lead was just one goal heading into the third period at 3-2.
Bitten got the T-Birds right back on the horse to start the final period. MacEachern and Joshua again worked a perfect two-man cycle, opening up a shooting lane for MacEachern on the right circle. "Mac" threw the puck to the goal, careening it off the back of Bitten and into the net to restore the two-goal lead, 4-2. The goal came just 35 seconds into the third.
It was Springfield's turn to take on a two-man disadvantage in the third, and just like the T-Birds, Laval's power play continued its series-long struggle, failing to cut into the lead. Worse yet for the Rocket, the T-Birds finally potted the series' first special teams goal at the perfect time. At the 5:59 mark of the third, Alexandrov moved up ice in a late-developing 2-on-1 with Bitten. Alexandrov saucered a perfect pass that Bitten batted out of midair for his third goal of the night, making it 5-2.
Laval tried in desperation to cut into the lead with Primeau pulled with less than three minutes to go, but Bitten intercepted the puck and fired home his fourth of the night to make it 6-2 with 2:51 to play. Nate Schnarr would get one for Laval with 11 seconds to play, but the damage was already done.
Bitten becomes just the second Thunderbird ever to score four goals in a game and the first to ever do it in the postseason. Hofer improved to 6-0 in the playoffs with 38 saves in another brilliant netminding performance.
The full remaining schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals is as follows - games marked with an asterisk (*) will be played only if necessary. MGM Springfield will host a Watch Party for Game 4 and Game 5 for T-Birds fans at its outdoor Plaza and at TAP Sports Bar.
- Game 4: Friday, June 10 - Thunderbirds @ Rocket, 7:00 p.m.
- Game 5: Saturday, June 11 - Thunderbirds @ Rocket, 7:00 p.m.
- Game 6*: Monday, June 13 - Rocket @ Thunderbirds, 7:05 p.m. - Click Here for Tickets
- Game 7*: Wednesday, June 15 - Rocket @ Thunderbirds, 7:05 p.m. - Click Here for Tickets
Thunderbirds playoff tickets are on sale now! To purchase your seats, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.