The Heat are sticking around. Again.
Thanks to two overtime wins, Stockton has sent the Western Conference Finals back to Chicago for a Game 6 on Tuesday night.
Dustin Wolf had another strong performance in net in last night’s Game 5, this time with 37 saves. Calgary Flames first-round pick and 2021-22 AHL All-Rookie Team member Jakob Pelletier got back on the scoresheet for the first time in five games via a third-period go-ahead goal, and to finish off the victory, defenseman Connor Mackey delivered the overtime winner.
“[It was] a battle in the corner there,” Mackey said in breaking down his winning goal. “I didn’t really see a winger covering the point. Byron Froese made me a great pass out in the slot. I kind of had the left side of the net open and just fired it in.
“It’s a great team effort all around.”
The Heat have made it clear to the regular-season champion Wolves that they will not be going quietly. They have had to play back-to-back games with the specter of playoff elimination around them. They will do so again on Tuesday at Allstate Arena. And, they hope, the following night for a Game 7 showdown.
“For us, being down 3-0, we just [tried] to focus on winning one game and just sticking together in the room,” Mackey said. “It’s do-or-die for us. We’ve done a great job of that so far, and we’re going to focus on the next one, just win one more again, and then keep it going here.”
Down 2-0 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night, the Thunderbirds had a choice on how to proceed.
“The easy thing is to pack it in and get ourselves ready for the game on Monday,” Springfield head coach Drew Bannister said.
Instead the Thunderbirds dug in further, confident that their play had controlled the game so far and would eventually pay off for them.
“We were playing really good hockey,” Bannister said. “We felt comfortable. Guys kept working. We had plenty of opportunities again. The bounce we got on the second goal… I just think we’d been working so hard, eventually there was going to be a bounce like that.”
The Thunderbirds continued to attack and worked Rocket goaltender Cayden Primeau relentlessly, eventually finishing with 47 shots. Nathan Todd halved Laval’s lead, and Dakota Joshua followed with the third-period tying goal to set up National Hockey League veteran James Neal’s overtime heroics.
Said Neal, “We didn’t want to leave without getting the win.”
The Thunderbirds tapped into an environment that they have fostered all season, something that winning goaltender Charlie Lindgren has said compared quite similarly to the one the parent St. Louis Blues have had for years.
Lindgren recounted, “After they got that second goal, Steve Santini came right down and said, ‘Keep us in it. We’re going to come back and win this game.’
“And sure enough we did. We’ve got a great group. It’s a blast to play with them, and hopefully we’ve got a long ways to go yet.”
Now the Thunderbirds leave town having taken two of three games at Place Bell and with an opportunity to end the series on home ice, possibly as soon as Monday’s Game 6. But playing three high-pressure road games in a frenetic environment was an American Hockey League development opportunity that Bannister relished for his young prospects.
“This is a really tough place to play,” Bannister said, “and their crowd brings a lot of energy to this hockey club. I’m proud of the way our guys reacted. We came in and we were a calm hockey team. We dealt with the crowd noise and the energy that they brought to their team and momentum swings.
“I thought we remained focused on some of the difficult times. This was a really tough place to play, a good group of fans that follow them, and they make it exciting to play in. We had a lot of fun coming here.”
Managing emotions is one of the many keys ― and chances for growth that a postseason run provides ― to winning the Calder Cup.
Laval head coach J-F Houle will again be stressing that message as his Rocket prepare for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday in Springfield.
“I think penalties again [are a lesson],” Houle told reporters after last night’s contest. “It gets tiring to kill. They do a hell of a job, our killers. But to conserve energy, you need to kill less, that’s for sure.”
The silver lining for the Rocket is that their penalty kill is a perfect 25-for-25 in the series. However, repeatedly putting the Thunderbirds on the power play is a risky move. And besides, every shorthanded situation means tiring out the team’s penalty-killing units and disrupting bench flow.
“It’s an intense game,” Rocket captain Xavier Ouellet said. “It’s an emotional game. Guys are battling hard. But we need to find a way to stay away from the box.”
― Patrick Williams