After Charlie Lindgren stopped 50 of 51 shots to backstop the Springfield Thunderbirds to a 4-1 victory over the WBS Penguins in Game 1 of their Atlantic Division semifinal, it was a very tall order for his backup, Joel Hofer, to follow. Amazingly enough, Hofer surpassed the performance of Lindgren with 34 saves and a goal of his own to power Springfield to a 6-2 win in Game 2.
Washkurak jumps in for his Calder Cup playoff debut, as does Luce.— Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithHockey) May 12, 2022
Full lines for @ThunderbirdsAHL:
Joel Hofer in net for his 1st pro playoff start. pic.twitter.com/IPNNRvFzYU
WBS were dealt a blow to their roster before the game even began, as their leading scorer from Round 1 Radim Zohorna was recalled to Pittsburgh. He and Jamie Devane were the two removals from the WBS lineup in Game 1, replaced by Sam Houde and Nathan Legare. Meanwhile, the big change on Springfield’s end was Hofer in net instead of Lindgren.
Just as they did in the first game, Springfield struck first in the first period with a power play goal. This time, it was Matthew Peca with the goal, his first of the playoffs. Hugh McGing and Sam Anas scored the assists.
Shots were even at 10 after the first 20 minutes, but Springfield held the advantage.
Just as they did in Game 1, the Penguins tied the game in the second period. On this night, it was defender Will Reilly who sent a shot in from the point, past the screen of Felix Robert, and into the net. Alex Nylander and Sam Houde picked up the assists at 4:56 of the second. For Reilly, it was his second goal of the playoffs after scoring only one in 40 regular season games.
WBS then managed to take the lead through Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who scored his first goal and 5th point of the playoffs at 10:34 of the second unassisted.
Springfield responded with two goals 42 seconds apart. First, Tommy Cross converted his team’s third power play goal in 5 periods at 16:57 of the second. (Volume warning)
the goal that tied the game pic.twitter.com/krvyogZ5MB— x - Springfield Thunderbirds (@ThunderbirdsAHL) May 13, 2022
Then, Mackenzie MacEachern took a breakaway pass from Steven Santini and beat Tommy Nappier to put the Thunderbirds up 3-2 after 40 minutes.
WBS outshot Springfield in the second period 12-9 for a two period total of 22-19.
Despite an early push by WBS in the third period, they could not get any closer than 3-2. Nikita Alexandrov scored at 10:49 of the third to put Springfield up 4-2, then the assembled crowd of 4,308 witnessed AHL history.
Despite a late WBS power play, Luke Witkowski hit the empty net again with 1:59 to go to finish off the score line, 6-2, and clinch a 2-0 series lead for the Thunderbirds.
Tommy Nappier, starting his fifth game in 7 nights, stopped 30 of 34 shots in the losing effort. Hofer stopped 34 of 36 shots for the win.
Third star honors went to MacEachern for his game-winning goal. Matthew Peca took second honors for his goal and assist, but Hofer, just like his counterpart Charlie Lindgren the night before, stole the show with his goal and 34 saves.
The series now shifts to Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza for Game 3 on Sunday, May 15, start time 5:05 pm EDT. WBS must win to continue the series.
In other WBS Penguins news, congratulations are in order for defender Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who was chosen as the IOA/American Specialty AHL Person of the Year from WBS for the 2021-22 season. In addition to all of his outreach since joining the franchise, this past February Joseph lent his image and a very powerful quote to the team’s “Hockey Is For Everyone” initiative.
Each team has one player named as Person of the Year, from which one player is chosen to receive the AHL’s Yanick Dupré Memorial Award. The award winner for the 2021-22 season was Dakota Mermis of Iowa. Previous winners of the award include former WBS defender Matt Carkner, who won the award during the 2006-07 season.