SAGINAW, MI – They fell behind in the opening minute of action, but the Saginaw Spirit responded in a big way, striking for seven goals on 30 shots to earn their first-ever Western Conference Championship Series contest by a score of 7-2.
Rookie winger Cole Perfetti (4, 5) was a man on a mission, scoring twice while adding two assists to give the Spirit a 1-0 series lead over visiting Guelph before an enthusiastic crowd of 4,218 at the Dow Event Center.
“It felt real good to contribute,” said the 17-year-old. The line played well, the team played well so it was nice to contribute to a big win and it was really good to get that first win on home ice.”
The Storm entered play off just one day of rest following their remarkable Game 7 victory over the London Knights on Tuesday. Their momentum fizzled out shortly after Isaac Ratcliffe (6) opened the scoring 40 seconds into the first period as the Spirit came flying back, also getting two goals and an assist from veteran forward Cole Coskey (2, 3). New York Islanders prospect Blade Jenkins (5), Detroit Red Wings pick Brady Gilmour (3) and rookie defender Mason Millman (2) also found the scoresheet for Saginaw.
“I don’t know if our start was great,” reflected Spirit head coach Chris Lazary. “First shift in they scored but all season long we had a great leadership group. The message on the bench as a coach, you don’t really have to do anything because the guys take over and I think we made a really nice play to get that goal back fairly quickly and then we found our momentum.
“It’s exciting for us to get Game 1 but there’s a long way to go yet.”
Ivan Prosvetov improved to 9-2 in the playoffs, turning aside 26 shots as the Spirit won despite being edged 30-28 on the shot clock. Across the ice, Guelph’s Anthony Popovich surrendered six goals on 25 shots before Nico Daws relieved him to begin the third period.
“In the playoffs the most important thing is a short memory,” said Guelph overage defenceman Sean Durzi who had a goal and an assist in the loss. “Obviously they were a really good team tonight. They outworked us, they out battled us and they deserved the win but we have a lot of character in our room, a lot of experience and I think a short memory is most important for us.”
After Durzi scored just prior to the midway point of the second period to cut the Saginaw lead to one, Storm forward Alexey Toropchenko nearly tied things at three with 8:27 remaining on a play that resulted in a lengthy review. The play was ruled no goal and the Spirit proceeded to score four unanswered the rest of the way.
Spirit defenceman Reagan O’Grady finished the night with a plus-6 plus/minus rating while Gilmour, Millman and Perfetti were all plus-5.
The Storm will get a much-needed day off on Friday before the two clubs return to action in Game 2 on Saturday night at 7:05pm in Saginaw.
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