By Matthew Wesolowski
Saginaw, Mich. – The Saginaw Spirit (1-0) took Game 1 of the first round playoff series against the Flint Firebirds (0-1) Thursday, March 30, at the Dow Event Center.
Joey Willis and Zayne Parekh each scored two goals for Saginaw, and Michael Misa added his first career playoff goal with his fellow rookies. Dean Loukus and Matyas Sapovaliv each earned three assists for the Spirit. Tristan Lennox made 34 saves on 35 shots in his eighth career playoff win. Riley Piercey scored the only goal for Flint. Nathan Day played the first 25 minutes for the Firebirds, stopping six of ten shots faced. Will Cranley finished out the game for the away team, stopping seven of ten shots faced.
The game began with Flint scoring just 62 seconds after the opening faceoff. Gavin Hayes passed to Amadeus Lombardi at center ice, who found Riley Piercey on a 2-on-1 for the series’ first tally.
Kaden Pitre went to the box for high sticking at 3:09 in the first period, giving Saginaw their first powerplay. Just 19 seconds in, the Spirit tied the game at one apiece. Mitchell Smith received a pass from Dean Loukus at the top of Flint’s zone. The captain ripped a shot past Day for his first goal of the postseason.
The Spirit earned another powerplay after Alex Bradshaw took a tripping call at 8:38 in the first frame. Much like the previous man-advantage, Saginaw scored and took the lead at 9:32. Hunter Haight got the puck from Dean Loukus and he sent a shot towards Day. The goaltender turned it aside, but Joey Willis was able to dive and push the puck past Day’s pad to make it 2-1.
Flint got their first man-advantage after PJ Forgione was called for holding at 13:42 in the opening period. Saginaw successfully killed off the penalty.
Zayne Parekh took a double minor for checking from behind at 18:52 in the opening frame. The penalty spanned the first and second periods.
At the end of the first period, Saginaw led 2-1 despite the Firebirds holding an 11-7 shot lead.
The second period started with Saginaw scoring shortly after the Parekh penalty expired. Dean Loukus passed to Matyas Sapovaliv to clear the puck. The Vegas Golden Knights pick spotted Zayne Parekh out of the box and sent a pass his way. The defenseman went low to Day’s glove side for his first career playoff goal.
Saginaw added to their lead with a tally at 5:58 in the second frame. Michael Misa received a pass from Matyas Sapovaliv and he took a shot at Day. The goaltender made the initial save, but Zayne Parekh collected the loose puck and scored his second of the game. Day was replaced by Will Cranley after the goal and 25:58 of action.
Roberto Mancini went to the box for holding at 7:38 in the middle period, giving Flint a man-advantage. Saginaw was able to score a shorthanded goal at 9:29. Theo Hill and Hunter Haight both skated into the Firebirds’ zone. After a back-and-forth, Haight sent a shot past Cranley to make it 5-1.
The Spirit extended their lead with another tally at 12:56 in the second period. James Guo gave PJ Forgione the puck in Flint’s zone and he sent a shot at Cranley. Michael Misa saw the puck and batted it mid-air past the goaltender for his first of the playoffs.
After 40 minutes of play, Saginaw led 6-1 despite a 22-16 shot advantage.
The third period opened with the Spirit down a skater after Olivier Savard was called for high sticking at 5:29. Flint was unable to score on the chance.
Later in the period, Saginaw made it 7-1 at 13:29. Joey Willis received a pass from Mitchell Smith and he skated into the Firebirds’ zone. The center wasted no time by sliding a backhanded shot under Cranley’s glove for his second of the game.
Flint went down a skater after Matthew Jenken committed a check to the head at 14:01 in the final period. Saginaw was held scoreless on the chance.
The game ended with Saginaw claiming a 7-1 victory but Flint holding a 35-20 shot advantage. With the win, Saginaw takes the 1-0 series lead in the first round.
Saginaw continues their playoff push with game two against Flint Friday, March 31, at the Dow Event Center. Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m. and tickets are available at Ticketmaster, the Saginaw Spirit Store (6321 State Street), Dow Event Center Box Office, and by phone at (989) 497-7747.4
Photo – Eric Young