SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – It was Game One of the rivalry series between the Springfield Thunderbirds and the Hartford Wolf Pack at MassMutual Center in a best-of-three series, and the Wolf Pack made a statement win with a 6-1 decision on the road. Lauri Pajuniemi tallied twice in a dominant effort at both ends of the ice in a total team effort while Ty Emberson and Tanner Fritz each had three points each. Dylan Garand had 24 saves in the win while Joel Hofer took the loss with 30 saves. The two teams rematch at XL Center in Hartford on Friday night.
Although the Wolf Pack only took a 1-0 lead to the room at first intermission, it could have been far worse as the visitors dominated at nearly every turn of the opening stanza. They struck only a few minutes into the action as Fritz made a nifty play to keep the puck in the zone, eventually centering the puck to Pajuniemi for his first of the game. It’s the first time since February that the Wolf Pack had dented Hofer for a goal, as the netminder blanked them in each of his last three starts in head-to-head matchups.
Lauri Pajuniemi scores to open the series for Hartford. Keep an eye on Tanner Fritz, who makes an excellent play to keep it in and center the puck. #HFDvsSPR pic.twitter.com/oB3PjCRwaH
— Corey Swartz (@FPHBears) April 19, 2023
In the second period, the Wolf Pack got rewarded for their strong play with a pair of goals in similar fashion. Zac Jones tallied on a breakaway as Will Lockwood spotted him out of the penalty box for a breakaway goal. Hartford took advantage of a dismal start by Springfield, which saw them fire a collective 11 shots on goal through forty minutes with the power play standing out as a sore spot for them.
Zac Jones jumps out of the box and scores on a breakaway. A fitting way to cap off a suffocating penalty kill for the Wolf Pack. #HFDvsSPR pic.twitter.com/9R9e8ZOUTz
— Corey Swartz (@FPHBears) April 20, 2023
It wasn’t a replay of the goal, but on the next Springfield power play minutes later, Hartford tallied another goal courtesy of a man coming out of the penalty box. At the end of the penalty, Anton Blidh blocked a point shot that ricocheted directly to Pajuniemi coming out of the box, and he’d make no mistake in increasing the lead to three. The dagger came in the late stages of the period as Hartford scored with six seconds to spare as Blake Hillman scored his first goal at the American Hockey League level since March 16, 2019 that stood through a review.
It’s not a replay of the goal but it’s pretty darn close – a blocked shot springs Lauri Pajuniemi out of the box for his second of the game! #HFDvsSPR pic.twitter.com/lhYyWi4kBz
— Corey Swartz (@FPHBears) April 20, 2023
Ryan Carpenter would get in on the action early in the third period, and although the fans at the Thunderdome would eventually hear the goal horn with Adam Gaudette’s first of the postseason, but it wouldn’t be enough as Emberson scored into the empty net to put an exclamation point on the first game of this series. The Thunderbirds’ trend of slow starts burned them badly in this game and their season is now on the line as a result. Hofer came up with a tremendous effort, but there’s only so much he could do against some of the high-quality chances he faced.
The Wolf Pack will try to advance to the division semifinals on Friday in front of their home crowd, as the close proximity between the two teams saw a fair amount of Hartford fans make the trip to see the game often dueling the home crowd’s chants. The Wolf Pack won their first playoff game since 2015 with the decision and will look to advance for the first time since that same year. The rematch is set to take place on Friday at XL Center with a decisive game on Saturday if necessary.
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