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WBS Penguins/Thunderbirds Game 3: Springfield survives 7-6, sweeps WBS

Fueled by five unanswered goals, the Springfield Thunderbirds eliminated the WBS Penguins in 3 games to advance to the Atlantic Division finals.

The WBS Penguins and Springfield Thunderbirds shake hands following their Atlantic Division semifinal series.
Photo taken by me

The WBS Penguins did something in Game 3 of their Atlantic Division semifinal against the Springfield Thunderbirds that had not been done by anyone else this season. They put six goals behind goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Unfortunately, not even that was enough to extend their season, as Springfield put 7 past WBS goaltender Tommy Nappier to sweep WBS out of the playoffs 7-6.

The two teams traded goals in the first 10 minutes, as Jonathan Gruden’s game-opening goal at 2:45 of the first was canceled by a Sam Anas power play goal at 8:27 of the first.

WBS dominated the last 10 minutes of the first period, getting goals by three of their young first-year forwards. Filip Hållander at 10:22, Sam Poulin at 14:31 (power play), and Nathan Legare at 16:41 staked WBS to a stunning 4-1 lead after the first 20 minutes.

On any other day, four might have been enough. But not against this Springfield team. Fueled by four power plays in the second period, the Thunderbirds outshot WBS 19-5 in the middle frame. Will Bitten (power play) at 10:36, Steven Santini at 12:59, and Dakota Joshua at 17:15 brought Springfield back to a 4-4 tie after 40 minutes.

Springfield carried that momentum into the third period, where Matthew Peca at 5:00 and Mackenzie MacEachern at 7:25 completed the string of 5 unanswered goals to put the Thunderbirds up 6-4.

Full credit to WBS, though…they did not quit. With Klim Kostin in the box for slashing just 23 seconds after MacEachern’s goal, Poulin scored his 2nd of the night and 3rd of the playoffs at 8:54 of the third to bring WBS back to 6-5.

Although Hugh McGing scored on a power play at 11:15 of the third to restore the two-goal lead at 7-5, Alex Nylander scored his 3rd of the postseason at 12:34 of the third to bring WBS back to 7-6. That was as close as they could get, as despite at 15-11 shot advantage to WBS in the final 20 minutes, the embattled Lindgren shut the door from there.

For the Penguins, Hållander recorded two assists in addition to his goal. Defender Mitch Reinke added two assists, while Nylander, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Legare, Felix Robert, Colin Swoyer, Gruden, and Valtteri Puustinen all recorded an assist. The Thunderbirds’ leading scorers, Sam Anas and Matthew Peca, led the way for Springfield on this day, as Anas added 3 assists to his goal, while Peca added two. Defender Tommy Cross added two assists, while 7 other Thunderbirds also recorded an assist.

Lindgren finished with 26 saves on 32 shots in the win, while Tommy Nappier saved 37 of 44 shots in a difficult losing effort. Springfield’s lethal power play finished 3 for 7, while WBS’s power play finished 2 for 4.

Peca’s three points earned him third star honors. Anas’s four points earned second star honors. Top honors went to McGing for his game-winner.

Springfield now advances to the best-of-5 Atlantic Division finals, where they await the winner of the series between Charlotte and Bridgeport. Charlotte leads the series 2-1, with Game 4 at home tonight and Game 5, if needed at home Wednesday, May 18.

As for the Penguins, their season is over. While the season once again ends without the ultimate goal being achieved, I think a lot of progress and development was achieved this season. One can only wonder what might have come of this season had the sensational Filip Lindberg not suffered his season-ending injury in November, but for this team to come from nearly last place in mid-January to making the playoffs and winning a series, there’s a lot of good to take out of it.

I was impressed with the incoming crop of first-years, especially with Legare’s playoff resurgence after being scratched for a good chunk of the second half of the year. Puustinen, Poulin, and Hållander all showed significant growth, as did players like defender Joseph, forwards Radim Zohorna, Robert, and others. Goaltender Nappier also grew as the season went on, despite facing an onslaught from Springfield in these 3 games.

The foundation is set for a hopeful and successful 2022-23 season. See you again in October for the 24th season of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey.