SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – They were down and seemed out in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Springfield Thunderbirds had their secret weapon ready for the Laval Rocket.
Springfield has dominated third period play in its perfect playoff run this spring, winning games in the final frame in a variety of ways against prior foes and scored another big goal in this one. Brady Lyle’s late goal evened the score at one, and then former Rocket forward Matthew Peca scored off the rush in overtime to reward a large crowd at MassMutual Center with a 2-1 decision. Laval goaltender Cayden Primeau and Springfield netminder Joel Hofer dueled each other in a tremendous first game.
Both teams entered play with a large layoff from their previous series wins, a week for the Thunderbirds and more than a week for the Rocket, which seemed to affect the teams in a slower start. Laval led a pedestrian 6-5 shot opening stanza, but both teams would hit double digits in shots the rest of the way as each team sought to generate enough to score a goal. Laval would do just that when Danick Martel got loose and scored his seventh goal in his last four postseason games to break the ice in the battle for the East.
Danick Martel opens the scoring in the Eastern Conference Finals. #LAVvsSPR @FieldPassHockey pic.twitter.com/ghAgrgoRxa
— Corey Swartz (@cswa11) June 5, 2022
Laval looked to have the game under control, with key saves from Primeau and pouring on 27 shots on Hofer in the last two periods of regulation with any mistake seemingly a death sentence for host Springfield. Despite allowing the goal, Hofer continued to show why the Thunderbirds trust their netminders and proved to be a difference-maker in this game. With the game on the line, Springfield would tie the game when Lyle loaded the puck on the blue line and fired through a maze of bodies past a screened Primeau to even the score with just under three minutes to play in the third.
Brady Lyle finds a seam and fires through a ton of traffic to tie the game late! #LAVvsSPR @FieldPassHockey pic.twitter.com/NNks5bVJpm
— Corey Swartz (@cswa11) June 5, 2022
Although Springfield missed out on repeating heroics like their Game 2 win over Charlotte with a late goal on the power play with Laval in the box for the last 1:15 of regulation, it was the latest example of the Thunderbirds bending but not breaking in extra time. Nine saves by Hofer in overtime finished his night at 41 stops in total as well as some help from key blocks leading up to the overtime winner. After an extended time in the defensive zone, Peca would lead his team on the rush on a give-and-go play with Matthew Kessel, and the defender made a nifty pass around the skates of a defenseman right to Peca. The high-flying scorer made no mistake with all kinds of space and lifted his team to a win just under halfway through extra time.
The winning goal was one of only a few blemishes for Primeau and the Rocket on this night, as their team played a suffocating game in the neutral zone and made it very difficult for the Thunderbirds to find any confidence-builders. With such a battle-tested team as Springfield has been, their team rose to the challenge and delivered yet another dramatic win, their seventh straight playoff win and 11th straight dating back to the regular season. Primeau finished the game with 37 stops as the netminders earned two of the three stars of the night.
The two teams will reset and face off Sunday evening for Game 2 before the series shifts north of the border to Laval. Sunday’s game features a quick turnaround time in a 5:05 PM EST start time, and it will be interesting to see if either team shifts goaltenders as a result. Springfield utilized both their goaltenders in a back-to-back set of games during the Wilkes-Barre series, which led to Hofer’s playoff goal in his start, and have Charlie Lindgren available to them after a recall to the St. Louis Blues before their elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Lindgren had been their go-to goaltender prior to his recall, and it will be interesting to see which netminder leads the team out. Similarly, Kevin Poulin has played in these playoffs for the Rocket, but not in nearly a month’s worth of time since their series with Syracuse.
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