The Saginaw Spirit (21-26-6-2) inched a bit closer (7-points) in the race for the final western conference playoff spot with a decisive 4-1 victory over its rival the Flint Firebirds (26-23-1-4) in an I-75 Divide Cup match up in front of 4,452 fans at the Dow Event Center tonight.
The Spirit (50 points) improved its season record with Flint to 2-4 with the win tonight, which was followed by a humbling 11-2 loss to the Firebirds at the Dow Event Center back on Jan. 10, of this year.
With 2 remaining games against Flint on the schedule, the Spirit can only hope for a 4-4 split in the 2017 I-75 Divide Cup Series, as it now trails the Firebirds (57 points) by seven points for the final western conference playoff spot with just 13 games left in the regular season, while Flint has an extra game to play with 14 games remaining.
Spirit forward (Dexter, Mi native) D.J. Busdeker (5) scored his fifth goal of the season early in the game with assists coming from Filip Hronek and Brady Gilmour for a 1-0 Spirit lead at 3:09 of the first period.
The Firebirds would answer midway through the first period when Columbus Blue Jackets' prospect Kole Sherwood (28) was able to sneak one by Spirit goal tender Evan Cormier (a fourth round pick of the New Jersey Devils, 105 overall, in the 2016 NHL draft) for a 1-1 tie at 10:42 of the first period.
Just over 4 minutes later, Hronek (10) a second round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, 53 overall, in the 2016 NHL draft, answered with his tenth goal of the season, the eventual game-winner with an assist from Kris Bennett to give the Spirit a 2-1 lead at 14:43 of the first period.
Just 31 seconds later, Bennett (19) would follow with his nineteenth of the season from Hayden Hodgson and Keaton Middleton at the 15:14 mark of the first period, giving the Spirit a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Spirit would go on to manage 3 successful penalty kill's in the second period, however, the Firebirds' would also stymie Saginaw's 2 second period power play opportunities in a scoreless middle frame.
Late in the third period, Flint head coach Ryan Oulahen made the decision to pull goal tender Garrett Forrest for an extra attacker and Busdeker (6) capitalized with his second of the night from Gilmour and Damien Giroux at 17:41 of the third period to secure the Spirit win.
If Busdeker and Hronek were the offensive catalyst's for the Spirit tonight, then there is no doubt that Cormier led the team defensively with a brilliant night between the pipes, stopping 27 of the 28 shots he would face.
The Spirit will continue its playoff chase with a visit from the Kitchener Rangers at the Dow Event Center at 7:05 pm tomorrow night, bringing a close to the 2017 Winter Ice Blast celebration.