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2022 Calder Cup Playoffs

Real Deal: Neal’s Late Goal Lifts T-Birds to Game 2 Win

Real Deal: Neal’s Late Goal Lifts T-Birds to Game 2 Win

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The Springfield Thunderbirds were down to the wire. All night long, the Charlotte Checkers threw everything and the kitchen sink at Joel Hofer with 50 shots on goal for the game and led 3-2 over halfway through the third. But a Will Bitten goal tied things, and the “Real Deal” James Neal tallied a deflection goal with just under five seconds to play to lift his Thunderbirds to a win on home ice 4-3 before the buzzer sounded. The win lifts Springfield to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series as it shifts to Charlotte for the remaining three games, if necessary.

After being blanked in Game One, the Checkers came out with fire to try and even the series. When on the road, that’s no small feat. Their captain, Zac Dalpe, brought it in the first period, scoring two goals to stake his team to a 2-0 lead just over halfway through the period. This postseason, Dalpe has seven goals to go with 30 regular season tallies in a magnificent return to the Checkers organization, and he wears the captain’s crest for a reason. Springfield would cut into the lead with their captain Tommy Cross scoring on a shot through traffic for his second of the postseason. The Checkers put up 15 shots in the first period. They outshot the opposition in all three frames, with Hofer making 47 saves in the game in another impressive showing following the emergency recall of starter Charlie Lindgren to St. Louis.

Both teams tallied with the power play in this game and have lethal special teams, and the Thunderbirds would put it to good use in the second period. The Checkers were down two men for an extended period on an elbowing call to Max McCormick and a delay of game call on Gustav Olofsson. Springfield flexed their muscle on the man advantage by tying the game at two courtesy of Brady Lyle’s first Calder Cup Playoff goal, cranking a shot past Joey Daccord.

Charlotte would take the lead over halfway through the third with Alexander True’s third postseason goal. The Checkers poured on the pressure with 19 shots in the second period and 16 in the final frame. However, Hofer proved why he was a regular part of the goaltending equation for the Thunderbirds by turning aside all but the True tally. Although the Thunderbirds only had two power-play strikes in seven attempts for the game, it’s not always how often, but when a team takes advantage of the power play that makes all the difference between winning and losing. With Charlotte boxed with 26 seconds left in the third on a kneeing call to Cale Fleury, Neal would deflect a shot past Daccord with less than five seconds to play to send the teams to Charlotte with a stranglehold on the series.

Neal’s goal was his first of the postseason after tallying 14 in 28 total games and has four points in four playoff games. Neal was not in the lineup for the Thunderbirds in Game One but added a goal and an assist in his return. Springfield continues to be hot, winning five straight playoff games and has not lost since a setback to the Bridgeport Islanders back on April 22. Combining the regular season and playoffs leads to nine consecutive wins for the top affiliate of the St. Louis Blues in their first playoff run since adopting the Thunderbirds moniker in 2016. Charlotte will look to get back on track in the friendly confines of their home arena, where they can play the rest of the series in a building they’ve done very well in this series.

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