The Saginaw Spirit (33-16-2-2) out-shot its I-75 Divide Cup Rival by a 21-3 margin in the third period alone, however, a 44-save performance from Flint goal tender Luke Cavallin would prove to be the difference in a 5-4 loss to the Firebirds in front of 4,688 at the Dow Event Center Friday night.
After Firebirds forward Evgeniy Oksentyuk (26) had given Flint a 5-3 lead with an empty-net wraparound goal at 18:53 of the final frame, Saginaw forward Cole Perfetti (who is considered by many scouting services to be a top 5 pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL draft this summer) completed a hat trick, scoring his third of the night (33rd of the season) with assists coming from Ryan Suzuki and Cole Coskey to cut the Flint lead to 5-4 at 19:50 of the third period, before eventually running out of time for a comeback.
Perfetti thought his team played well enough to get the win, but admitted Cavallin was the difference-maker for Flint tonight, especially throughout the final sixty minutes.
“Yeah, he played good tonight,” Perfetti said of Cavallin. “We put up almost fifty shots and (we) were coming on strong in the second and third, but he played really well. We had a lot of chances, grade-A chances, but we couldn't find the back of the net enough. It was a good game by us, I thought we played really well, we just didn't get the bounces we needed, but we're going to come back strong tomorrow.”
Perfetti (31) opened the scoring with his thirty-first goal of the season on a feed from DJ Busdeker to give the Spirit a 1-0 lead at 4:10 of the opening period, but the Firebirds would respond with 3-unanswered goals (2 in the first period and another in the second) to take a 3-1 Flint lead midway through the second when Perfetti (32) followed with his second tally of the night with an assist coming from Mitchell Smith to cut the Firebirds' lead to 3-2 at 14:24 of the second period, before Dallas Stars' first round draft pick (No. 13 overall in the 2018 NHL draft) Ty Dellandrea (31) added a power play goal at the 17:20 mark, giving the Firebirds a 4-2 lead after two periods.
Saginaw defenseman Mason Millman (a fourth round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2019 NHL draft) would get the Spirit to within a goal of Flint early in the final frame, scoring his thirteenth goal of the season with assists from T-Bone Codd and Dalton Duhart to cut the Firebirds' lead to 4-3 at 2:29 of the third period, before Saginaw goal tender Marshall Frappier came to the bench for the extra attacker, leading to the Oksentyuk empty net goal.
Cavallin turned away 44 of the 48 shots he would face in net for the Firebirds, while Frappier stopped 18 of the 22 shots he saw in between the pipes for the Spirit.
The second-place Spirit (70-points) will look to rebound, welcoming the western conference leading Kitchener Rangers (73-points) to the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw for a 7:05 pm face off tonight.