Flint, Mich. – The Firebirds snapped their 15-game winning-streak in a 4 – 1 defeat to the Kitchener Rangers in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center Saturday night. The ‘Birds were playing their third game in three nights, and Anthony Popovich played all 60 minutes of all three games. He made 29 saves on 33 shots to keep his team within striking distance. Team captain Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars) scored the lone tally for the home team. Visiting netminder Jacob Ingham (Los Angeles Kings) showed why he’s in the top-five in every category for OHL netminder, making 45 saves on 46 shots to earn ‘First Star’ honors.
The Firebirds came out with an elevated energy level, outshooting the visitors 11 – 0 in the first 6 minutes of play. It was the Rangers, however, who found paydirt first. Mike Petizian emerged between two Flint defenders in the right-wing circle and lifted a short-range wrister that found netting behind Popovich for his 18th of the season at 15:19 of period one. Liam Hawel and Arber Xhekaj combined for the assists on the only tally of the opening frame.
Shots were 17 – 7 in favor of the Firebirds after 20 minutes, but Kitchener held a 1 – 0 lead. Kitchener also had a slight edge in faceoffs 11 – 8. The only power-play opportunity in the opening frame went to the ‘Birds, but they were unable to convert.
The Rangers went up 2 – 0 at the 6:20 mark of the second period. Isaac Langdon found Joseph Serpa all alone at the bottom of the left circle, and sent a quick pass through the slot. Serpa one-timed the puck behind Popovich on the back-door play. It was Serpa’s third of the campaign, assisted by Langdon and Declan McDonnell.
The ‘Birds cut the deficit in half with a power-play marker at 12:37. Ty Dellandrea snaked his way through three Kitchener defenders and lifted a wrister top-shelf, near-side from the bottom of the right circle for his team-leading 32nd of the season, assisted by Riley McCourt and Tyler Tucker (St. Louis Blues) .
Flint’s lead on the shot clock after 40 minutes was 32 – 23. Faceoffs were even at 18 per side. The Firebirds scored once on two chances with the man-advantage, and the Rangers were scoreless with one opportunity.
With a man in the box early in the third period, the Rangers’ Riley Damiani (Dallas Stars) emerged on a breakaway from the red line in. He maintained a stride on his defender and found the five-hole for his 26th of the season, unassisted at 1:21.
At 12:04 of the final frame, Kitchener sealed the victory with an even-strength tally from just outside the blue paint of Popovich’s crease. Petizian scored his second of the game in similar fashion to the first. He carried through the right circle and this time shot just inside the far post in front of Popovich. Donovan Sebrango was credited with the helper.
Final shots were 46 – 33 in Flint’s favor. Faceoffs remained even at 28 per side. The Firebirds scored once on five chances on the power-play while stopping both Kitchener opportunities.
Next up for Flint is a road game versus the Sting in Sarnia Wednesday before returning home to host the Hamilton Bulldogs Friday night. The Firebirds need just one more point in the standings to clench their second-ever playoff berth.
Photo Credit: Todd Boone / Flint Firebirds
For more information:
Director of Broadcasting & Communications
Flint Firebirds Hockey Club