CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the Calder Cup playoffs, it’s often the best performances at the right times that propel one team forward while the other one falls behind. On Saturday evening at Bojangles Coliseum, the Springfield Thunderbirds had all the answers to the Charlotte Checkers as they won their tenth straight game dating back to the regular season and punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 5-1 decision on enemy ice. Much as he has been throughout these playoffs, Joel Hofer was outstanding in this game with 34 saves on 35 shots, including some dazzling stops to keep the Thunderbirds ahead while the offense delivered big in the third period with three goals. Joey Daccord suffered the loss with 25 saves as Charlotte’s season, as well as their dual affiliation with the Seattle Kraken, came to a close with the decision.
Joel Hofer stretches out and denies the Checkers with a brilliant save! #SPRvsCLT @FieldPassHockey pic.twitter.com/hwLqxGvPQW
— Corey Swartz (@cswa11) May 28, 2022
Springfield jumped into the lead early on a defensive zone turnover to rookie sensation Nikita Alexandrov, who picked up the puck on an errant pass and beat Daccord to establish the lead. Hofer would come up large in the frame, stopping a great give-and-go passing play that landed on the stick of Aleksi Heponiemi all alone, but Hofer would flash the right pad across the crease and make the save.
Springfield would double the lead in the second period when Hugh McGing buried his second of the postseason, courtesy of a great stretch pass by Hofer in his own end to Klim Kostin.
Joel Hofer made a huge save earlier and he’s earned an assist on this great stretch pass! Springfield’s power play continues to amaze and produce. #SPRvsCLT @FieldPassHockey pic.twitter.com/wjKMmOQEd5
— Corey Swartz (@cswa11) May 28, 2022
Springfield would get a big break early in the third when Nathan Todd made a great play to steal the puck from Daccord behind the net and centered to James Neal, who buried the pass to make it 3-0.
The exclamation goal came after Dakota Joshua was penalized, perhaps unfairly, after receiving a plethora of cross-checks to the back from Alexander True and was ultimately called for closing his hand on the puck in the process. After another strong penalty kill, Joshua got the puck out of the box and beat Daccord on the rush to make it 4-0.
Max McCormick would break the shutout bid late for Hofer, but an empty net tally would seal the series and extend Springfield’s unbeaten streak.
After being boxed unfairly, Dakota Joshua puts another exclamation point on this game and series with a huge goal out of the box! #SPRvsCLT @FieldPassHockey pic.twitter.com/sRv7qAVKj0
— Corey Swartz (@cswa11) May 29, 2022
The decision sets the stage for a clash between the Thunderbirds and the Laval Rocket in the Eastern Conference Finals. Springfield’s power play and overall special teams play continues to be outstanding, tallying 11 times on 29 total chances, with four goals in three games in this series, the most among remaining teams in these Calder Cup Playoffs. Springfield will need to remain red hot against the Rocket, whose special teams will be more than a match for them.
The series loss sees the end of an interesting season for the Checkers, who will lose their dual affiliation with the Seattle Kraken, which afforded them such prospects as Daccord, as they move to Coachella next season. It leaves the Checkers with many questions to their future, which will begin this summer in a new era for the team.
The Thunderbirds move on as one of the most interesting teams to watch in the Conference Finals, playing some of their best hockey and getting contributions up and down their lineup. With their NHL affiliate in St. Louis eliminated, the T-Birds should receive defenseman Calle Rosen after being placed on waivers, as well as goaltender Charlie Lindgren, although the crease will most likely be Hofer’s after his outstanding performance in this series, limiting the high-scoring Checkers.
The Conference Finals will begin on Saturday, June 4 in Springfield, where the Thunderbirds have not lost since mid-April.
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