Firebirds Fall 9-5 to Knights Monday
London, Ont. – The Firebirds generated 46 shots on goal and scored on five of them at Budweiser Gardens Monday. However, the Knights got the upper hand, scoring nine times on 40 shots for the win. Amadeus Lombardi led the way for Flint with a three-point performance (1 G, 2 A). Knight’s Captain Sean McGurn recorded a hat trick and three assists but still finished second in total points to teammate Ruslan Gazizov (1 G, 6 A). For the Firebirds, Will Cranley posted 31 saves in a much stronger effort than the numbers may indicate. Veteran Brett Brochu stopped 25 of 27 shots faced through the first two periods before rookie Zach Bowen made 16 saves in the third.
London came on strong in the opening frame, scoring twice in the first five minutes and four times in the opening 20 minutes. Just 1:16 into the first period, a mishandled puck deep in Flint’s zone resulted in Ruslan Gazizov slipping a puck between defenders to Sean McGurn on the far side of the net for an easy tap-in. Gazizov and George Diaco assisted McGurn’s 20th of the season. Then McGurn returned the favor less than four minutes later, setting up Gazizov to the right of the net for another close-range marker. This time Gazizov faked a short-side shot before carrying to Cranley’s right for the backhand tally at 4:44. Diaco again picked up the second assist.
Flint was called for a minor penalty moments later, and a successful kill seemed to boost the energy of the Firebirds. After returning to full strength, they created a couple of quality scoring chances against Brochu. However, it was another London goal that looked very similar to their first at 10:28 that took the wind out of the Birds’ sails again. Gazizov snuck a pass-through traffic from the left faceoff dot that found Landon Sim for a tap-in from Cranley’s left, with the second helper getting credited to Brody Crane. Then, Diaco scored his 21st of the season at 11:57 with a one-timer from a pass from McGurn from behind the Flint cage to in between the circles. Ethan MacKinnon was credited with the second assist.
The Firebirds finally lit the lamp when Amadeus Lombardi won an offensive draw in the left circle. The puck went to Riley Piercey at the inner hash marks. Brochu kicked Piercey’s initial shot back toward the same circle, where Lombardi snagged the rebound and carried it across the slot for a far-side goal at 17:34. It was his 31st of the campaign.
First-period shots ended 18-9 in favor of the hometown Knights. Flint outdrew London 15-12 in the opening frame and killed off the lone penalty taken.
Early in the middle frame, the Birds cut the deficit to only a pair. Lombardi fired a slapper from the center point that whistled just wide of the cage to Brochu’s right. The puck rebounded off the end boards and back toward the left circle, where Gavin Hayes was first on the scene. He found a way to send it behind Brochu and in from a wide angle for his 26th at 1:31.
The clubs would play some intense scoreless hockey for the next 17 minutes, but with both netminders shutting the door on the opposition. Finally, London potted two more in the final 1:07 of the center stanza.
First, Ryan Winterton attempted a pass to Oliver Bonk on his left as they gain the offensive zone, but Flint’s defender blocked the pass. The puck slid to the end boards to Cranley’s left, where Winterton won the foot race and fed the slot. Bonk one-timed the second pass-attempt past Cranley for his tenth at 18:53, assisted by both Winterton and Isaiah George. Finally, McGurn took a pass from Gazizov and carried it deep into the left corner. With two defenders on him, he curled back toward the half boards and passed out to defender Jackson Edward at the near point. Edward’s slapper found twine near-side at 19:41 to give his Knights the 6-2 edge heading into the second intermission.
Shots in the second were 18-15 to the Firebirds’ advantage, and faceoffs also favored Flint 14-6. This time the lone power play went to the Firebirds, but London killed it off to escape unscathed.
Zach Bowen took over between the pipes for the Knights to start the third period. The teams traded a quick pair of goals early in the frame. McGurn potted his second of the night and 21st of the season at 1:11 of the final frame, assisted by Gazizov and Diaco. At the 3:30 mark, Jacob Julien netted goal number four of the year off assists from Gazizov and Mathieu Paris.
Flint answered with two tallies exactly one minute apart to pull back within four goals shortly thereafter. Dmitry Kuzmin sniped a wrister from the left faceoff dot to beat Bowen glove-side for his tenth at 5:40, assisted by Lombardi. Then, fellow defender Tristan Bertucci scored his seventh of the campaign at 6:a 40, unassisted.
The score was still 8-4 when a minor penalty was called on London at 14:57. Head Coach Ted Dent utilized his timeout to strategize, and kept Cranley on the bench for a 6-on-4 manpower advantage. The Firebirds managed several scoring chances against Bowen but were unable to convert on the power play. Cranley remained on the bench and the game continued with Flint skating with six attackers. With 2:53 remaining on the game clock, Simon Slavicek one-timed a rebound home off Nolan Dann’s initial shot to pull the visitors within three.
Cranley returned to his crease momentarily until his squad controlled the puck off the ensuing faceoff, then he returned to the bench for the extra skater. McGurn wound up getting his hat trick with his 17th goal of the season on the empty net at 17:55 to conclude the high-scoring affair.
The final shots were 46 for the Firebirds and 40 for the Knights. London ended up on top in faceoffs 37-32. On special teams, the Birds finished 0-for-3 on the power play while holding the Knights scoreless in three chances.
Up Next: The Firebirds return to home ice Wednesday to host the Western Conference’s first-place Windsor Spitfires for a BOGO Wednesday. Buy one ticket and get one FREE of equal or lesser value. Puck drop for Wednesday’s tilt with the Spits is set for 7:00 p.m. (ET), and tickets are available from ETIX HERE.
Photography: Todd Boone / Flint Firebirds
Story: Brandon Mills / flintfirebirds.com
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Flint Firebirds Hockey Club