Flint, Mich. – The Firebirds returned to their winning ways Saturday night, defeating the visiting Windsor Spitfires in a 4 – 3 overtime thriller in front of a packed Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center on Overager’s Night. Anthony Popovich made 39 saves on 42 shots for his 29th victory between the pipes. Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers) scored the overtime game-winner and was named the ‘First Star.’ Evgeniy Oksentyuk scored once and picked up two assists, both Braden Kressler and Cody Morgan each lit the lamp and Riley McCourt earned two assists. With the victory, Flint improved to 40-20-1-1 on the season and 20-11-1-0 on home ice.
Windsor found twine on the game’s first power play. Jean-Luc Foudy made a neutral zone pass at center ice to Will Cuylle along the left wall. Cuylle carried into the right-wing circle with Foudy streaking up the middle of the offensive zone. With traffic in front, Cuylle lifted a wrister top-shelf, near-side for his 22nd of the season at 4:09. Foudy combined with Louka Henault for the assists on the play. The Birds killed off their next two penalties with success, including the 16 seconds they overlapped and gave the Spits a five-on-three advantage in manpower.
The first period ended in a 1 – 0 lead for the visitors. Shots favored the Spits 17 – 6 despite Flint winning more faceoffs by a margin of 12 – 9.
After a penalty-filled second period, the Firebirds fought back and tied the game with under three minutes remaining in the middle frame. Braeden Kressler deked around a defender in the right circle and skated directly toward the crease. As netminder Kari Piiroinen was dropping to the butterfly position, Kressler sniped one through the five-hole for his ninth of the season, logged at 17:01. Owen Lalonde picked up the lone helper.
In the waning seconds of period two, Riley McCourt carried in from the right point and around a defender. He split two defenders with a pass across the high slot to Cody Morgan who one-timed the puck past Piiroinen for his 15th of the campaign at 19:48. McCourt and Evgeniy Oksentyuk were credited with the helpers on Flint’s go-ahead goal.
Flint outshot the Spits 14 – 9 in the second period, and won 12 of the 22 draws. Through 40 minutes of play, the Firebirds were scoreless on three attempts with the man-advantage compared to Windsor scoring once on four chances.
With the man-advantage, the Spits tied the game at 11:42. Connor Corcoran (Vegas Golden Knights) passed across the top of the circles to Egor Afanasyev who was wound up and ready for a heavy one-timer through traffic and past Popovich near-side for his 30th of the season. Corcoran and Cole Purboo assisted on the tally.
Windsor won an offensive-zone faceoff to Popovich’s left just over a minute later. Foudy won the faceoff back to Corcoran. As Windsor’s left wing stepped in front of Flint’s goaltender to obstruct his view, Corcoran one-timed the puck through the screen and in. It was Corcoran’s 19th of the season, netted at 12:54.
The Spits’ lead didn’t last long, as Oksentyuk rifled a wide-angle shot from the bottom of the left circle as a defender sent him flying into the corner. The puck surprised Piiroinen and snuck in for Oksentyuk’s team-leading 33rd of the season at 14:24. Jake Durham and McCourt were credited with the assists.
The contest remained tied 3 – 3 at the end of regulation. The Birds trailed on the shot-clock 41 – 37 and in the faceoff circles 32 – 31. Windsor finished two-for-five on power-play opportunities, and Flint finished scoreless in three chances. The teams required overtime to determine a victor.
Just over two-and-a-half minutes into the extra frame, Oksentyuk skated a circle around his defenseman and charged the net. His move on the next defender didn’t work, and the puck was knocked free of his stick. Defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok was in place to slip the rebound back to his fellow Belarusian in the slot. Oksentyuk’s shot was kicked aside by Piiroinen, but Kolyachonok shot it back on net from below the goal line. The puck went behind the netminder and in for Kolyachonok’s first game-winning goal of the season at 2:52 of overtime, assisted by Oksentyuk and Jack Phibbs.
Final shots were 42 – 40 to Windsor’s advantage.
Next up for Flint, the Firebirds will travel to Sault Ste. Marie Tuesday for a Wednesday night tilt against the Greyhounds. The Firebirds return to home-ice next Saturday, March 14th. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (ET) at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center in Flint.
Photo Credit: Todd Boone / Flint Firebirds
For more information:
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Flint Firebirds Hockey Club