Falcons Stay Alive

By Doug Manners

SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts – Goaltender Jean-Marc Pelletier got the Falcons to the playoffs for the first time in two years. Then, he led them to their first postseason series victory in six years. Tonight, Pelletier kept Springfield’s season alive for at least another few days.

Pelletier stopped all 39 shots he faced as the Springfield Falcons blanked the top-seeded Hamilton Bulldogs 3-0 before a boisterous crowd of 3,943 at the Springfield Civic Center. Hamilton holds a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five American Hockey League quarterfinals series.

Great goaltenders are counted on to come up with big games when it matters most, and Pelletier certainly came through after allowing seven goals last night.

“I felt I was on my game in Hamilton, but I just didn’t get the bounces,” said Pelletier. “Last night was a shootout at the OK Corral and tonight was a low-scoring game. It’s just funny how hockey works sometimes.”

Don’t let the score fool you. This was a one-goal game until the Falcons iced it with a pair of empty net goals in the final minute. Both teams played with a surprising amount of energy considering they bussed to Springfield for seven hours after last night’s game.

“This was a real playoff game,” said Falcons head coach Marty McSorley. “There was a lot of grind and sacrifice out there tonight.”

The Falcons picked right up where they left off last night with their power play. Just 21 seconds into the game’s first man advantage, Corey Foster’s shot from the slot went through traffic in front of the net and squirted between the pads of Hamilton goalie Eric Fichaud at 6:55. The Falcons went four-for-eight on the power play in last night’s 7-6 overtime loss in Hamilton.

The crowd at the Nest might have been a tad under 4,000 in reality, but it sounded like a packed house. During a penalty kill in the second period in which Jason Jaspers lost his stick, the fans gave the Falcons a standing ovation when Nikos Tselios cleared the puck. All night long, the playoff-starved Springfield fans provided an electric atmosphere to an intense game.

“It was a great crowd,” said Pelletier. “It’s fun playing in this building. Springfield is an intimidating place for the opposing team to play and we try to take advantage of that.”

The Bulldogs lost defenseman Mike Komisarek for the game when he was assessed a boarding major and game misconduct for a hit on Erik Westrum with 3:03 left in the first period. Springfield then lost two minutes of power play time when Tselios was whistled for interference with 42 seconds left.

Fichaud, who replaced Ty Conklin after the second period last night, made the flashiest save of the game 4:04 into the second period. Foster bided for his second goal of the night on the power play with a blast that Fichaud snagged out of midair with his glove. Fichaud finished with 28 saves for the Bulldogs.

The Falcons resorted to icing the puck on several occasions in the third period, but made the one-goal lead stand on the scoreboard. Pelletier made his final save of the game with 1:27 remaining as he denied Ron Hainsey’s shot from the left point.

“I know that Pelletier doesn’t believe he played his best hockey in Hamilton,” McSorley said. “Tonight, he showed us his best his hockey. He looked so big in the net, which is a great sign for a goaltender.”

Then, with Fichaud on the bench for the extra attacker, Martin Cibak put the puck into the open net from center ice with 38 seconds remaining in regulation. Boyd Kane added another empty net goal for the Falcons with six seconds to go.

Both teams will get some well-deserved rest over Easter weekend. Game four will be played on Monday at 7:05 P.M. in Springfield.

Falcon Facts: As the case has been throughout the entire playoffs, Evgeny Konstantinov and Kristian Kudroc missed the game with injuries for Springfield, while Ray DiLauro, Peter Fabus, Ryan Lauzon, Jay Leach and Brad Ralph were healthy scratches…Springfield’s last home playoff game was played exactly three years ago to this date. On April 18, 2000, the Falcons dropped a 5-2 decision to Hartford in game four of their conference quarterfinals series. The Wolf Pack went on to win game five at home, 7-2, and eventually defeated Rochester in the Calder Cup finals…The Falcons have rallied from a two-games-to-none deficit in a best-of-five series once in franchise history. In 1997, they came-from-behind and staved off elimination three times to knock off Portland in the first round. Springfield came within one game of reaching the Calder Cup finals that season, losing to Hershey in seven games in the conference finals…