SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The Springfield Thunderbirds (10-2-2-0) erased a first-period 3-0 deficit and rallied all the way back to take a 5-4 shootout decision over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (6-6-0-2) on Friday night at the MassMutual Center.
The visitors had thoughts of spoiling the home fans' moods with a blitz of the Springfield net in the opening half of period one. Just 1:03 into the first period, Radim Zohorna took a left-wing pass from Felix Robert and snapped a wrist shot past Joel Hofer to make it a 1-0 lead for the Penguins.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton power play entered the game having endured an 0-for-36 drought, but on this night, the first power play was all that the Penguins needed, ad Drew O'Connor - back from Pittsburgh and skating in his first AHL game of the season - crashed the net mouth to find a loose puck in Hofer's crease to shuffle it home on the backhand to extend the Penguins lead to 2-0 at 7:44.
Springfield's penalty kill could not bounce back on the second Penguins' man advantage when Filip Hallander found a soft space in between the hash marks, accepting a pass from Valtteri Puustinen and beating Hofer upstairs to make it a 3-0 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lead at 12:27 of the period.
In desperate need of a lift, the T-Birds' checking line delivered just that with 2:30 left on the clock in the first. Hofer made a kick save in his own crease, and Alexey Toropchenko took the rebound through the neutral zone. He hit Mackenzie MacEachern with an indirect pass along the right-wing boards, and MacEachern returned the puck to the goalmouth, where a streaking Toropchenko blasted a snapper through Louis Domingue to make it a 3-1 game.
Springfield kept pushing in period two and eventually got the Penguins lead cut down to a single goal with some hard work from the combination of Matthew Peca and Sam Anas. Peca kept the puck alive along the left-wing boards for Anas, who fought through multiple tugs and trips to get into the middle of the ice. After Anas lost possession, Steven Santini picked up the puck and moved to the center point position before launching a wrist shot into a maze of players. Peca would be the ultimate beneficiary at the goal crease, as Santini's shot careened right to the feet of the T-Birds' leading goal scorer, and Peca's eighth of the season gave the T-Birds plenty of confidence and a 3-2 deficit going into the third.
It would not take Springfield long to send the Thunderdome into hysteria in the third as Toropchenko cleaned up a loose puck at the side of Domingue's net and tied the game, 3-3, at the 5:11 mark of the third. Just 41 seconds later, Tanner Kaspick blew the roof off the arena when he crashed the net and picked up a feed from Nikita Alexandrov, and beat Domingue under the crossbar to make it a 4-3 Thunderbirds lead.
The Penguins showed plenty of resolve for themselves though, and Cam Lee picked up his first goal of the year with a quick deke to the high slot before beating Hofer along the ice at 8:13 to make it 4-4, a score that would carry into overtime.
The five-minute 3-on-3 session did not disappoint, as the teams combined for eight shots on goal and breakaway bids both directions, but Domingue and Hofer were superb in a frenetic extra session.
When nothing was settled at 3-on-3, the shootout came calling, and for a second straight game, Hugh McGing played the role of hero, beating Domingue on the backhand for the only goal of the three-round skills competition.
Springfield looks to parlay the momentum into Saturday night's tilt as they welcome the Bridgeport Islanders for Hockey Fights Cancer Night.
For more information on the Springfield Thunderbirds and to order tickets, please visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com. To learn more about becoming a Thunderbirds ticket member, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) to speak to a Thunderbirds representative.