The impressive mid-season resurgence of the American Hockey League's Springfield Thunderbirds continues to mirror that of their National Hockey League counterpart, the Florida Panthers.
Springfield came back from an early deficit to defeat the Hershey Bears, 5-4, in a thrilling shootout at MassMutual Center on Wednesday night, tying a franchise record with their fifth consecutive victory and matching the Panthers' own season-long, five-game winning streak that lasted from Dec. 19-30.
After dropping their first six games of the 2017-18 season, the Thunderbirds now sit at 19-21-1-1.
"The biggest thing is the attitude in the room," Thunderbirds forward Blaine Byron told the team's official website. "It took us a while to get that first win. It's confidence. Now we've kind of got our confidence and rhythm, buying into coach's system and following through with it every game, every shift."
Alex Grenier, Dryden Hunt, Anthony Greco and Maxim Mamin all scored for Thunderbirds in regulation, while first-year pro Samuel Montembeault stopped 33 of the 37 shots to earn his 12th win of the season.
"I like the way we played the last couple," Thunderbirds coach Geordie Kinnear said. "Tonight wasn't as tied to our identity. We were trying to be a little too cute at times, but what I really liked about the guys is they stuck with it, down 2-0, found a way to get back.
"Monty dug in and it's a resilient group. We didn't play our game in the third period, but we held on and won in the shootout. It's not going to be pretty all the times, but I like the resiliency of the group."
After falling behind 2-0 just 2:32 into the matchup, Springfield went into attack mode rather than rolling over, as Grenier and Hunt each found the back of the net just 14 seconds apart to make it 2-2 at 3:16 of the first period. Hunt, who has suited up for 11 games with Florida this season, has notched 12 goals in just 24 games with Springfield, just one shy of the career-high 13 he posted in 70 games as a rookie last season.
"Playoff hockey starts at the beginning of the year," said Grenier, who will represent Springfield at the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic. "Even, like, the first games, those games are the ones where the points matter at the end. So far, fight now, it's been going really well. We've just got to keep going with that mentality and hopefully it pays off at the end."
In the second, the Thunderbirds chased Hershey goaltender Vitek Vanecek from the game, as goals from Greco and Mamin extended Springfield's lead to 4-2 midway through the period. Mamin, who made his NHL debut with the Panthers on Jan. 7, has scored in three straight games and five of his last six overall.
"He's consistent, he's and every-dayer," Kinnear said of the 23-year-old Mamim, a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2016. "He has an impact. We want impact players, and he's definitely brought that since Christmas vacation."
After Phoenix Copley entered the game in relief of Vanecek, the Bears settled down and dominated the third period, evening the game at 4 on goals from Dustin Gazley and Tyler Graovac, who scored at 17:47 to force overtime.
Following a scoreless overtime, Montembeault only needed to make one more save, as the Thunderbirds edged the Bears in the shootout round, 3-2, with Ludwig Bystrom, Curtis Valk and Byron all scoring to close out the win.
"I like this group," Kinnear said. "They're coming together as a team, and for me that's what it's all about."
Springfield will go for a franchise-record sixth straight win against the Binghamton Devils on Friday.
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