The Springfield Thunderbirds secured a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 5-1 win over the Charlotte Checkers at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Saturday night.
Following their second consecutive series sweep, Springfield will take on the Laval Rocket for the right to play for the Calder Cup. Both the Thunderbirds and Rocket are in the midst of their first-ever appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Joel Hofer (4-0) made 34 saves for Springfield in Game 3 and stopped 116 of 120 Checkers shots in the series (1.34, .967).
Nikita Alexandrov opened the scoring at 10:45 of the first period, pouncing on a Charlotte turnover and snapping a shot home from between the circles.
Hugh McGing scored a power-play goal to make it 2-0 in the second period as Springfield caught the Checkers on a line change.
The Thunderbirds went up 3-0 at 1:54 of the third when James Neal scored his second goal of the series, and Dakota Joshua forced a turnover and converted on an odd-man rush at 8:08 to make it 4-0 in favor of the road team.
Charlotte pulled goaltender Joey Daccord for an extra attacker and finally got on the board with 6:08 remaining as Max McCormick netted his fourth goal of the playoffs, but Mackenzie MacEachern capped the series sweep with an empty-net goal at 19:00.
The Thunderbirds become the first Springfield-based team to reach the conference finals since the Falcons did so in 1997.
Atlantic Division Finals (best-of-5)
A1-Charlotte Checkers vs. A2-Springfield Thunderbirds
Game 1 – Sun., May 22 – SPRINGFIELD 6, Charlotte 0
Game 2 – Wed., May 25 – SPRINGFIELD 4, Charlotte 3
Game 3 – Sat., May 28 – Springfield 5, CHARLOTTE 1