by Dillon Clark
Winston-Salem, NC – The Carolina Thunderbirds had an opportunity to advance to the second round of the Commissioner’s Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night. After a 4-3 win in Port Huron the night before, Carolina needed just one more win to move past the Prowlers.
It took just 23 seconds for the Thunderbirds to find the back of the net in Game 2. Jiri Pestuka received a pass from Tommy Cardinal at the right point, and hammered a shot towards the net. Stationed in front of Cory Simons, Thunderbirds captain John Buttitta deflected home his second goal of the postseason for the 1-0 lead. The Prowlers would battle back and even the score just ten minutes later. Off a faceoff play, a Larri Vartiainen wrist shot beat Nick Modica past the glove. Despite a 29-11 shot advantage for the Thunderbirds, the first period would come to a close tied, 1-1.
Vartiainen would pick up right where he left off in the second period, catching a pass in the right wing circle and snapping it past Modica’s blocker. Minutes later, Joe Cangelosi received a game misconduct for cross-checking Alex Johnson. On the ensuing powerplay, Dalton Jay wasted little time in putting Port Huron up to a 3-1 lead. Despite again having a massive shot advantage in the period, the Thunderbirds trailed heading into the third period.
Carolina finished killing the last of their major penalty to begin the third period, which gave them considerable momentum after only conceding a goal. Ten minutes into the frame, they would be rewarded. Everett Thompson jammed home a loose puck atop the goal crease to pull the Thunderbirds within striking distance. In a late period battle, Evan Foley would trip Jiri Pestuka in the corner, putting Carolina to a powerplay with less than three minutes to go. On the powerplay, Nathan Campbell attempted a one-time shot from the point, but his stick broke. The ensuing rebound kicked off of Alex Johnson’s skate directly to Gus Ford. Carolina’s leading goal scorer in the regular season outwaited Cory Simons and snapped the puck over his leg for the tying goal. Game 2 would require overtime.
Dawson Baker scored three overtime goals in the regular season, his most recent against Port Huron on April 8th. In Game 2 of the opening round, Baker continued his overtime heroics. After a crisp pass by Nathan Campbell from the defensive zone, Baker found himself with an angle to Simons’ net. Cutting from his strong side, Baker deked and backhanded the puck past a sprawled-out Cory Simons to end the game at 5:10 of overtime.
Carolina advances to the second round of the Commissioner’s Cup Playoffs, with Game 1 coming up on Friday night. Though they don’t yet know their opponent, Game 1 will be in Winston-Salem at 7:35pm Friday, as the Thunderbirds are the lowest remaining seed. Games 2 and 3 would be played on the road.