Flint, Mich. – The Firebirds continued their winning ways on home ice, defeating the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in front of more than 3,500 fans Saturday night in Flint. Jake Durham scored his team-leading ninth of the season, and Cody Morgan and Ethan Keppen (Vancouver Canucks) also found twine. Team captain Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars) extended his current point streak to five games (1G, 4A) with an assist. Netminder Anthony Popovich earned his eighth win between the pipes, making 29 saves on 31 shots. With the victory, the ‘Birds remain in first place in the Western Conference and improve to 12-5-0-0 overall with a record of 8-1-0-0 on home ice.
Jake Durham was quick to get the crowd involved by winning a faceoff, delivering the game’s first big hit and scoring the first goal of the game, all in his first shift on ice. After his body check resulted in a turnover along the left half-boards, Durham passed to Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers) at the left point. Kolychonok returned the pass to Durham, who skated across the top of the right circle before turning and launching a wrister on net. The puck deflected off a defender and redirected past netminder Christian Propp.
The Greyhounds tied the game at 7:26. Flint attempted to clear the puck in their defensive end, but Robert Caliste was able to keep it in at the point. He quickly slapped a shot glove-side, top-shelf past Popovich for his fifth of season.
Flint was unable to convert on three power-play chances in the opening frame, and they killed off their one shorthanded situation. The ‘Birds outshot the ’Hounds 11 – 8 during the first 20 minutes, and won 12 out of 19 faceoffs.
Cody Morgan scored the first goal of the second period. First, he picked the pocket of a Soo defender in the neutral zone. Then, he stiff-armed his defender in a football-like play as he stickhandled one-handed through the offensive zone. Finally, he pulled the puck from backhand to forehand in the slot to score blocker-side for his fourth of the season at 16:54.
Sault Ste. Marie fought back and tied the contest at two with less than 30 seconds remaining in the middle frame. Cole MacKay shot from the top of the left circle and the puck deflected off a Flint defenseman past Popovich. The goal was MacKay’s tenth of the season, scored at 19:31 and assisted by Jacob LeGuerrier (Montreal Canadians) and Rory Kerins.
Flint was outshot 12 – 8 in the second period and trailed 20 – 19 through 40 minutes. The Greyhounds had two opportunities with the man-advantage, but the Firebirds were able to kill both penalties. Faceoffs were 25 – 17 through two period in favor of the home team.
Flint reclaimed the lead at 4:58 of the third period. On the power play, Ty Dellandrea made a cross-ice pass to Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes) at the left point. Busby skated in and took the first shot from the middle of the left circle. His shot hit the post, but the rebound went to the right circle, where Ethan Keppen one-timed it near side to score the eventual game-winner.
The visitors used their timeout and kept Propp on the bench for the extra attacker, but Flint’s defense fought hard to preserve the victory. Total shots were 34 for the Firebirds and 31 for the Greyhounds. Flint scored one power-play tally on six opportunities, and kept the Soo scoreless in three chances. The ‘Birds also finished with the advantage in faceoffs 36 – 24.