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AHL Game Recap/Analysis

Koppanen Powers Bruins Past Thunderbirds

#AHL | @AHLBruins. @ThunderbirdsAHL. A tight game led by a rookie goaltender ended in a shootout. How’d it get to that point? @FPHBears explains.

Koppanen Powers Bruins Past Thunderbirds

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Providence Bruins and Springfield Thunderbirds met up for the second half of a home-and-home set at Amica Mutual Pavilion in Providence on Sunday. The Bruins took a convincing 4-1 decision on Saturday, but the Thunderbirds made Sunday’s rematch significantly more challenging, forcing the game to a shootout late. Bruins forward Joona Koppanen proved to be the difference-maker in the game, tallying two goals as well as the only goal of the skills competition to get Providence the extra point. Kyle Keyser made 28 saves in the win, while Vadim Zherenko took the loss with a whopping 57 saves.

The Bruins nearly ran the visitors out of the building in the first period with a 16-4 shot edge in the first period, but Zherenko stood his ground and gave his team a chance. Adam Gaudette scored a dazzling goal on an individual effort, picking up the puck behind his own goal and weaving his way around the ice, eventually firing a shot past Keyser for his 22nd goal of the season. The Thunderbirds took a lead into the final frame after firing 16 shots of their own in the middle stanza.

Providence wouldn’t back down, instead managing to outdo themselves with 21 shots in the third period. They tied the game when Koppanen found himself with some time and space on the left side, wiring a shot over Zherenko to even the count at one with a power-play tally. Koppanen has spent time with the Bruins in each of the last six seasons, and his performance in this game helped eclipse his previous single-season point total with time to go in the regular season.

For all their efforts to take the lead, it’d be a less common kind of goal for Koppanen’s second of the night. The Finnish forward was able to bank the rebound of a Marc McLaughlin shot off the back of Zherenko from below the goal line to give the Bruins the lead with less than three minutes to play in regulation. Springfield didn’t quit, coming back to tie the score in the game’s final minute when Mathias Laferriere beat Keyser with a shot from the top of the slot as a power play expired.

Sunday’s overtime is best described as “maximum chaos.” Both teams had quality chances to end the game, with Zherenko standing on his head and making 11 saves in the five minutes played in extra time. Zherenko made a key stop on Bruins forward Shane Bowers, who took a pass and cut across the slot on the backhand. Springfield’s rookie goaltender stayed with him and, despite being on the move, made the save and deflected the shot out of play.


The game, unfortunately, ended in a skills competition despite the frantic pace of the extra session. Providence ultimately took the game as Koppanen scored in the bottom of the third round to put a damper on Zherenko’s big performance. Springfield’s goaltender earned second-star honors behind Koppanen in the decision, as host Providence took their fifth straight win. The Bruins opened a three-point lead for first place over the Hershey Bears as the top teams in the Atlantic Division have been on winning streaks lately.

“It was exciting,” Koppanen said after the game. “I’m not usually the first guy going in the shootout but it was an awesome feeling to see that the coaches trust me and to score the game-winner.”

Providence is only one point away from clinching a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs, but their next task is going up against one of those hot teams in their division: the Charlotte Checkers. Charlotte is fresh off of a pair of decisive wins against the conference-leading Toronto Marlies.

Sunday’s game was the first of seven consecutive games away from home for the Thunderbirds, who turn around for a pair of games against the Hartford Wolf Pack beginning on Friday. Springfield remains five points behind Charlotte for third place in the division.

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