WORCESTER, Mass. – The Adirondack Thunder and Worcester Railers faced off Sunday in game three of the best-of-seven North Division semifinals. The two teams entered Sunday’s matchup with the series tied 1-1, with the home team winning both games. The Thunder took game one 3-0, while the Railers won game two 2-0. During the regular season, the first goal was key. The team who scored first was the ultimate winner in most of the contests between the two teams. For the second time this weekend, that first goal belonged to the Thunder.
The crucial first goal came at 10:51 of the first period, with Worcester’s Connor Doherty serving a roughing penalty. Railers goaltender Eamon McAdam lost sight of the puck during a scramble in front of his net. Thunder forward Brian Ward was right on the doorstep to easily toss it in.
Ward was also involved in the next goal, this time assisting on the eventual game-winner early in the second period. Ward handed the puck to rookie Mike Szmatula, who flipped it past McAdam at the 2:48 mark. It was Szmatula’s first goal as a professional.
Less than four minutes later, Jeff Kubiak managed to get past the Adirondack defense to score on Mackenzie Blackwood and bring his team to within one goal.
Neither team managed another score until 19:47 of the third period. With McAdam pulled for an extra attacker, Adirondack rookie Ryan Schmelzer skated into the Worcester zone to put the puck into the empty net.
After putting only 14 shots on Railers goaltender Mitch Gillam in game two, the Thunder almost tripled their output in game three. Adirondack registered 36 shots on goal, with half of them coming in the first period.
Szmatula was not chosen as one of the three stars but easily could have been. He not only scored the game-winner but also turned the tide back in Adirondack’s favor in the series.
With the victory, the Thunder now lead the series 2-1 with the next two games on home ice. Game four is Wednesday at 7 pm; game five is Saturday at 7 pm.