Springfield could not go wrong either way in net for Game 7.
Head coach Drew Bannister had Joel Hofer as one choice. The 21-year-old had a solid first full American Hockey League season, with a standout Calder Cup Playoff performance as an encore, with a 2.08 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage in eight postseason outings. Hofer even chipped in offensively with an empty-net goal against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 2 of the teams’ Atlantic Division semifinal series.
Or Bannister could go with veteran Charlie Lindgren. In addition to spending time on recall to the St. Louis Blues earlier in the playoffs, Lindgren was 3-1 in his four games with the Thunderbirds this spring. And not that he needed any additional incentive, but Lindgren had also spent the previous five years in the Montreal Canadiens organization, mainly with their AHL affiliates in Laval and St. John’s.
Bannister chose Lindgren.
What tipped the decision in the veteran’s favor?
“For us,” Bannister began, “we just went back on how we felt both goalies had played in their starts leading up to this game. We just thought it was right. Charlie and Joel have been excellent for us all season. Our goalies have been outstanding.
“They’re always hard decisions… I thought just how they played in the last two games, it was Charlie’s net to have.”
Lindgren relished the opportunity to lead his team into the Calder Cup Finals, making 34 saves in a 4-0 win. He became just the 12th goaltender in AHL history to record a Game 7 shutout, adding his name to a list that includes Jacob Markstrom, Michal Neuvirth, Rick DiPietro, Ron Tugnutt and Johnny Bower.
“Game 7 against my old team,” Lindgren said. “I mean, you can’t really write a better script than that. That’s right up there. After spending five years up there, [it] made it extra special. And man, I love this team, too. We have such a great group of guys, and for us to come through and play the way we did, I just feel incredible.”
Having both Lindgren and Hofer as capable choices relaxed the Thunderbirds as they prepared for their most pressure-packed game of the season.
“It’s so nice,” said Matthew Peca, whose first-period goal ― the Thunderbirds’ first on the power play all series ― stood up as the game-winner. “It’s so nice having two goalies, especially with the amount of back-to-back [games] we’ve played in the playoffs. Our two goalies have been our best players night in and night out, and it doesn’t matter who’s in there. We’re confident.”
When the Rocket meet later today at Place Bell for break-up meetings, they will find a proud head coach in J-F Houle.
Following a third-place finish in the remarkably tight North Division, the Rocket put together an excellent Calder Cup Playoff run, eliminating Syracuse in a five-game division semifinal series and then sweeping the Rochester Americans in the division finals.
Going seven games with Springfield only to come up short stings, and the Rocket will need some time to digest the loss.
“I think they’re a group that liked each other,” Houle opened up to reporters after Game 7. “They played for each other. They competed all the time, and we never had an issue about if they’re going to show up or not.
“We’re really proud as a coaching staff.”
― Patrick Williams