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Firebirds Hang On, Win Wild Game 1 of Conference Semifinals 5-3

Flint, Mich. – The Firebirds carried a comfortable two-goal lead over the visiting Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds through the end of the first and second periods. Then, things blew wide open in the third, with the teams combining for six markers before Flint emerged victorious 5-3. Brennan Othmann (New York Rangers) led Flint’s offensive charge with a goal and two assists to earn ‘First Star’ accolades. Rookie Coulson Pitre scored twice, including the game-winner, and was named ‘Third Star.’ In goal, Luke Cavallin stopped 55 of 58 shots faced en route to the franchise record for saves in a game (previously 54). Samuel Ivanov was also stellar in net, blocking 26 of 30 shots. Jack Thompson (Tampa Bay Lightning) scored twice and added an assist for the Soo to be named ‘Second Star’ of the evening, and Kalvyn Watson also recorded a three-point night (1 G, 2 A).

The complexion of the game early on appeared that it would be all Greyhounds on offense. Despite getting outshot by a large margin, Flint scored both first-period markers on two separate power plays. First, Brennan Othmann made a cross-ice pass to Dmitry Kuzmin (Winnipeg Jets) centered just inside the blue line. He wound back and faked a shot that caused his defender to drop and slide out of his shooting lane. Kuzmin then released a heavy shot that was kicked aside by Ivanov. Keppen was in the open space at the bottom of the right circle to redirect the rebound behind the Hounds’ netminder for his fifth of the playoffs at 5:58.

Then, Othmann netted his fifth of the playoffs with 26 seconds left on the first-period clock. Kuzmin had the puck high in the zone and dished it to Gavin Hayes at the right point. Hayes completed a pass across the ice to Othmann atop the left circle. His wrist shot struck twine mid-height to the blocker side to claim the 2-0 lead late in the opening frame.

First-period shots favored Sault Ste. Marie 18-9. The Hounds also outdrew the Birds 13-7. On special teams, however, Flint scored on both chances with the man advantage while staying out of the penalty box themselves.

The middle frame was essentially a goaltending clinic. There were highlight-reel saves on both ends of the ice, and the score remained 2-0 in Flint’s favor. Once again, the Greyhounds held the edge in shots 15-13. Both clubs were scoreless with one power-play opportunity in the center stanza.

The Greyhounds cut the deficit in half just past the five-minute mark of the third. Rory Kerins (Calgary Flames) passed the puck from behind Flint’s cage to Jack Thompson low in the right circle. Thompson shot, but the puck bounced high into the slot and hit the chest area of Kalvyn Watson in front. The result was a bouncing puck getting past Cavallin, which was credited as Watson’s third of the playoffs at 5:04.

Just over a minute later, Watson passed from his left-wing corner to Robert Caliste at the near point. Caliste sent a quick pass to the opposite point for Thompson. The veteran rearguard took a couple of strides before sending a wrist shot far side, up high. His fourth of the postseason was logged at 6:24 and tied the contest at two.

Less than a minute later, Riley Piercey and Othmann emerged on a two-on-one break that started in the defensive end. Piercey carried up the left and passed across to Othmann after gaining the zone. Othmann earned the attention of the lone defender before setting Piercey up for the one-timer that gave Flint the 3-2 lead at 7:16.

Things had appeared to settle for a while after the trio of quick goals, until the 13th minute of period three. James Mayotte’s breakout pass sprung Coulson Pitre all alone into the Soo zone. He made a few inside-out moves before snap-shotting one five-hole for his third of the playoffs at 13:50.

The Greyhounds answered in under two minutes, again off the stick of Thompson. Kirill Kudryavtsev sent the puck from his left point to Thompson on the right. This time the rearguard’s slapper found an opening blocker-side for his fifth of the playoffs at 15:46, assisted by both Kudryavtsev and Watson.

Trailing 4-3 and time running out, the Hounds pulled Ivanov to the bench for an extra attacker. They maintained possession and put a flurry of shots on Cavallin, but Flint’s goaltender continued to be a brick wall for his club. Eventually, Kuzmin grabbed a rebound and fed Pitre for a breakout up ice. Pitre carried up the right, then passed to Othmann once in the offensive end. Othmann unselfishly returned the puck for the rookie, who converted for his second of the night at 19:40.

Flint was outshot 58-31 through 60 minutes but skated away with a 5-3 victory. The Soo outdrew the Birds 37-32. Both teams stayed out of the box in the final frame, except for one set of offsetting minors.

Next Up: The Firebirds will also host Game 2 on home ice this Sunday, with puck drop scheduled for 4:00 p.m. (ET) at the Dort Financial Center. Tickets for Game 2 are available now from ETIX, in person at the Dort Financial Center box office, or by calling (810) 744-0580. Follow flintfirebirds.com for details and availability of Game 5 tickets (if necessary).

Story: Brandon Mills / flintfirebirds.com

Photography: Todd Boone / Flint Firebirds

For more information, contact:

Jack Sznewajs
Director of Broadcasting & Communications
Flint Firebirds Hockey Club
jack@flintfirebirds.com
(810) 742-2004 ext. 223

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