Thunderbirds take Calder Cup series lead with OT win over Rocket

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The win gave Springfield a 3-2 lead in the Calder Cup Eastern Conference final. Game 6 will be on Monday at MassMutual Center (7 p.m., RDS, 91.9 FM). If a Game 7 is necessary, it will be played in Springfield on Wednesday.

Neal scored on a shot from the slot to spoil a strong performance from goalie Cayden Primeau, who finished with 44 saves.

Dakota Joshua sent the teams into overtime for the second consecutive night when he beat Primeau with a knuckleball with 4:24 remaining in regulation time.

The win spared Springfield coach Drew Bannister a round of second-guessing about his choice of a starting goaltender.

While the Rocket has been riding Primeau since the second game of the playoffs — he made his 12th consecutive start Saturday —  Bannister has divided the work between Joel Hofer and former Canadien Charlie Lindgren, who got the call Saturday.

He went with Lindgren over Hofer, who has a 6-1 record in the playoffs with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage, and the veteran responded with a solid performance.

Springfield’s Nikita Alexandrov hit a rough patch midway through the first period. He was stopped by Primeau on a breakaway seconds after  the Thunderbirds killed a penalty for having too many men on the ice. Alexandrov showed his frustration by picking up a slashing penalty and the Rocket capitalized when Rafaël Harvey-Pinard scored a power-play goal at 11:32.

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Harvey-Pinard, who is all of 5-foot-9, established position in front of the net and was rewarded when he deflected Sami Niku’s shot from the blue line.

Harvey-Pinard made it 2-0 when he got the bounce in the second period. His shot from the left side went through the crease and appeared to go in off Springfield defenceman Brady Lyle. Harvey-Pinard, who scored the overtime winner in the Rocket’s 3-2 win in Game 4 on Friday, has five goals in the playoffs and all of them have been scored against Springfield.

Nathan Todd ended Primeau’s shutout bid when he scored late in the second period.

The Rocket penalty-kill made another significant contribution in keeping the game close. Springfield went 0-for-7 on the power play and is 0-for-25 in the series. The Rocket has killed 29 consecutive power plays going back to the North Division final against Rochester.

There were a couple of  lineup changes for the Rocket. Jean-François Houle reverted to a conventional 12-forward, six-defenceman alignment, replacing defenceman Gianni Fairbrother with Jean-Christophe Beaudin, while Kevin Roy subbed in for Nate Schnarr.

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