Winston-Salem, NC — After taking two of three from the top team in the Continental Division last weekend, the Motor City Rockers took two of three against Carolina, the second place team in the division, on the road in dramatic fashion.
The Rockers lost game one, but came back and won game two and three to take the season series and secure a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history.
On Friday night, the Thunderbirds struck first with 5:18 into the first period. The puck was deflected off the stick of Joe Kennedy in between the hashes of the defensive zone and onto the stick of Gus Ford. Ford then took the puck through the neutral zone, and centered it to Dawson Baker at the point. Baker ripped a quick shot, high glove side for a 1-0 lead.
The Rockers penalty kill worked well most of the second period, even turning in some offensive chances while down a man near the midway point of the period.
Baker, however, made sure the lead grew when it was 5-on-5. Josh Koepplinger picked up the puck at the end line, and cycled it back to the point to Baker. Baker moved to the middle of the point and fired a shot on a screened Trevor Babin for a 2-0 lead for his 17th of the season with 9:59 left in the second. Motor City was able to cut into the lead nearly two minutes later on the power play. As the Rockers were cycling the puck back from a rebound, Scott Coash moved it to the point onto the stick of Dante Suffredini. Suffredini slid the puck to Josh Colten who fired a hard shot on net. The rebound came to the right and on the stick of Connor Inger who put away the rebound for his eight of the season in a 2-1 game with 8:11 left in the second period.
Saturday night, however, the Rockers got the lead first.
The lone goal scorer from Friday, Inger, chipped the puck away from a battle along the farside boards and onto the stick of Declan Conway. Conway walked the puck into the high slot and fired the puck over the left shoulder of Mario Cavaliere for a 1-0 lead 2:53 into the opening frame.
Cavaliere left the game midway through the first period with an undisclosed injury and was replaced by Boris Babik.
Motor City extended the lead, 2-0, in the second period when Josh Colten fired a hard pass to the far post where Roman Gaudet finished the quick one-timer for his first goal in two months, and 10th of the season 2:41 into the period. Carolina got back into the game with a two-goal spurt of its own to close out the second period before being held scoreless in the third period.
With 6:07 left in the second period, Matt Bazarin saw the puck roll off Ford’s stick in the crease and quickly put it away for a goal. Two minutes later Koepplinger knotted the score at 2-2 when he put away a one-timer from Ford from point blank range with 4:20 left on the clock.The Rockers regained the lead in the third period that it wouldn’t give up.The first goal came off the stick of Scott Coash who put in a loose puck that was dumped in by Dante Suffredini from the far side point as Coash got checked on at the near side post for his 32nd of the year with 13:41 to play in the third. The final goal of the game was scored on the power play with 7:17 to play in the third period.
After a face-off draw won by Brad Reitter, the puck landed on the stick of Tommy Cardinal. Cardinal moved it along the blue line to Jamie Milam who fired a hard wrist shot from the point on the near side of his third of the season and 4-2 lead.
Sunday afternoon was jump started for Motor City thanks to two goals from Derek Makimaa who recorded his first multi-goal game in a month. The first goal was recorded 3:30 into the first period when Gaudet fed the puck to the half wall to former Thunderbird Cody Oakes. Oakes fired the puck on net, and Makimaa deflected the rebound into the net for a 1-0 lead. His second goal was much more clean.Midway through the second period, Dante Suffredini won a puck battle in the neutral zone and pushed it to Makimaa near center ice. Makimaa walked the puck into the offensive zone and fired it through the five-hole of Babik for a 2-0 lead with 8:49 to play in the period.Seven minutes later the Rockers’ top line got in on the action when Inger moved the puck to Conway who fired a quick shot on net that was deflected by Coash for a 3-0 lead.
The Thunderbirds didn’t go away, and took a goalie change to its advantage. Blake Scott was working on a 36 shot shutout when he left the game, and didn’t come out for the third period. After taking a puck to the head, he felt dizzy and was kept off the ice in the third for precaution. Trevor Babin came in.Carolina went to work quickly on an ice cold Babin scoring three unanswered goals to tie the score at 3-3 with 10:04 to play in the final frame. A power play though helped buoy the Rockers as Conway was camped out in front of the net waiting for a sharp centering pass. That pass came after the puck was cycled from Suffredini as Conway gave Motor City back with his 22nd of the season and a 4-3 lead with 12:25 to play.
Carolina was stingy though and tied the score back up at 4-4 two minutes later on the power play as Joe Kennedy put away his ninth of the season.
Coash played hero to the Rockers though with his second goal of the game with just 1:05 left on the clock when he finished a centering pass from Inger in between the hash marks for a 5-4 lead.