By Matthew Wesolowski
Saginaw, Mich. – The Saginaw Spirit (2-0) won 4-1 over the Flint Firebirds (0-2) in front of a sellout crowd Friday, March 31, at the Dow Event Center.
Matyas Sapovaliv netted his first career playoff hat trick and Dean Loukus earned two helpers for Saginaw. Tristan Lennox got the start for the Spirit, stopping 16 of 17 shots faced. Nolan Dann scored the lone goal for Flint while Nathan Day stopped 22 of 25 Spirit shots.
The game began with Saginaw being caught with too many men at 3:58, resulting in a Flint powerplay. Saginaw successfully killed off the chance.
Flint got on the board first much like Game 1 at 8:24 in the first frame. Nolan Dann intercepted a pass from Dean Loukus in the left-wing circle, sweeping the puck past Lennox for the early 1-0 lead.
Saginaw answered back with a goal at 12:15 in the opening period. Dean Loukus sent a pass to Michael Misa to the right of the net. A scrum broke out behind the net, but the rookie claimed victory and sent the puck to Sapovaliv for a tap-in that tied the game 1-1.
The Spirit went down a skater after Theo Hill went to the box for tripping at 14:51. Matyas Sapovaliv was tangled up by Tristan Bertucci on a shorthanded breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot. The Czech center executed his move perfectly, but sent a backhand shot over the crossbar.
The Firebirds went down a skater after Simon Slavicek committed a slashing penalty at 18:46 in the first frame. Saginaw capitalized on the chance and took the lead with a powerplay tally just six seconds in. Hunter Haight received a pass from Dean Loukus in Flint’s zone. The Minnesota Wild pick sent a one-timer pass to Matyas Sapovaliv for his second of the game.
At the end of the first period Saginaw led 2-1 and held a series first shot lead, nine to seven.
The second period started with the Spirit down a skater after Nic Sima went to the box for high sticking at 3:32. Saginaw successfully killed off the chance with several clearing attempts.
Theo Hill was called for hooking at 6:47 in the second frame, giving Flint a man-advantage. The Firebirds could not tie the game on the opportunity.
Saginaw earned another powerplay chance after Dmitry Kuzmin committed an unsportsmanlike conduct at 10:47 in the middle period. Flint prevented the Spirit from scoring on the chance.
After 40 minutes, Saginaw still led 2-1 and held an 18-13 shot advantage.
The third period opened with a scrum that ultimately led to a Saginaw powerplay. The Spirit could not score on the chance.
Saginaw added to their lead with a score at 12:41 in the third frame. Hunter Haight claimed the puck after a Flint pass glanced off Amadeus Lombardi’s skate. Day denied Haight’s first shot, but he backhanded a rebound past the goaltender’s right pad for the 3-1 lead.
With under a minute to go in the game, Day was called to the bench for an extra attacker. Saginaw used the chance to score an empty net goal courtesy of Matyas Sapovaliv. The Vegas Golden Knights pick earned his first career hat trick on the tally.
The Spirit ride a 4-1 win and 26-17 shot lead to a 2-0 series advantage over the Firebirds.
Saginaw heads on the road for the first time this post season as they play Game 3 against Flint Monday, April 3, at the Dort Financial Center. Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m.
Photo – Eric Young