Neal's OT Heroics Push T-Birds to Brink of FinalsJun 11, 2022
LAVAL, QC - The Springfield Thunderbirds came back from 2-0 down late in the second period to stun the Laval Rocket, 3-2, in overtime on Saturday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Thunderbirds now lead in the series, three games to two with a chance to clinch a berth in the Calder Cup Finals on Monday night in Game 6.
Penalty troubles would haunt the T-Birds in the first period, as Springfield was forced to go to three penalty kills in period one after having only two shorthanded situations in Game 4. The second of those three resulted in just the second power-play goal of the series, a redirection by Rafael Harvey-Pinard off a Sami Niku point wrister at 11:32 of the period to make it 1-0 Laval.
Charlie Lindgren drew the netminding assignment in Game 5, and after Laval made it 1-0, the Rocket had a glorious chance to make it 2-0 as Joel Teasdale found Jesse Ylonen with a perfect 2-on-1 saucer pass. With the net seemingly empty, Lindgren found a way to extend his left foot to get a piece of the shot and keep the deficit at just one goal heading into the second.
Harvey-Pinard's red hot series continued with a bit of lady luck in period two, when the pesky winger found a loose puck to the right of Lindgren's crease in the left-wing circle. With no real shooting angle, Harvey-Pinard elected to whip a hard pass through the crease, which deflected off a T-Birds' skate and into the vacated net to make it 2-0 Laval at the 12:05 mark of the middle period.
Despite continued hard times for the man advantage, Springfield's 5-on-5 unit finally solved Laval goalie Cayden Primeau at 16:03 as James Neal set up Nathan Todd for a one-timer from high in the right-wing circle. Todd's second goal in three games gave Springfield further life to make it 2-1 heading into the final period, and the T-Birds had another golden opportunity presented when Alex Belzile was whistled for a trip in the closing seconds of period two, giving the Springfield man advantage a crack at tying the game to start the third.
Springfield's man-advantage still was not able to find the mark, and the Rocket clung to the one-goal lead into the final five minutes.
The T-Birds got rewarded with their own puck luck at 15:36 when Dakota Joshua cut through the slot and fired a shot that ricocheted off a defenseman and skipped through Primeau to tie the game, 2-2.
The two teams traded dangerous chances throughout the first overtime period, with Primeau coming up with two point-blank saves on Todd and James Neal, while Lindgren answered with a breakaway blocker denial on J-S Dea.
With time dwindling on the first overtime period, Neal then played the hero role, taking a feed in the right-circle from Matthew Peca and elevating it through Primeau to give Springfield its second overtime win in the series, 3-2. It was "the Real Deal's" first goal of the series and his second point of Game 5.
The full remaining schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals is as follows - the Thunderbirds can clinch the Eastern Conference title on Monday, June 13 in Game 6 of the series. Tickets are available at the link below.
- 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.