Baker's OT winner secures 4th straight Carolina win Saturday night
Columbus, GA -- After several lead changes and a surprise overtime period, the Carolina Thunderbirds won their season-high 4th straight game, 6-5 against the River Dragons on Saturday night. Dawson Baker's overtime goal put an exclamation point on a rollercoaster that began midway through the 3rd period.
The Thunderbirds weathered an early push from the River Dragons that required a number of strong saves from Chris Paulin. Carolina would then receive a fortuitous bounce, as a Columbus defenseman's stick go stuck in the corner boards. As a result, Jacob Schnapp found Dawson Baker in the slot. Baker out-waited Bailey MacBurnie and slid home his 7th of the season. MJ Graham responded with a power play goal a few minutes later, jamming home a loose puck in the goal crease. A defensive zone turnover would come back to bite Carolina to round out the period, as Dalton Anderson capitalized and gave Columbus a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Daniel Martin was working his way through a ten-game goal drought entering Saturday night. He broke through on a Blake Peavey rebound midway through the 2nd period, tying the game at 2-2. Jay Croop wouldn't leave the game tied for long, picking up a loose puck and scoring just four minutes later to reclaim the lead.
The second period wouldn't end without tensions rising further. Blake Peavey bumped Bailey MacBurnie in the crease, drawing the ire of both Jay Croop and Edgars Ozolinsh. Play continued for a few moments before Hunter Bersani and Jacob Schnapp became entangled and dropped down to the ice. Play was blown dead, and Vaughn Clouston responded to a Bailey MacBurnie chop by two-handing the goaltender. Clouston received a match penalty, and the Thunderbirds were faced with a considerable penalty to kill off headed into the 3rd.
They would not only kill the penalty, but respond with a pair of goals to take a 4-3 lead. Gus Ford extended his point streak to 17 games with a goal, and Declan Conway scored his second goal as a Thunderbird midway through the period. Austin Daae tied the game at 4-4 just a minute later, and the roller coaster continued. Tim Perks used his size and speed to beat a Columbus defenseman later in the period, banking his first goal as a Thunderbirds off the crossbar for the 5-4 lead.
Jay Croop took a slashing penalty with less than three minutes left in the game and had some words with Dawson Baker on his way to the box. Croop would then slash Baker across the back, picking up a match penalty and giving Carolina seven minutes of power play time. Instead of a smooth ride to the finish line, chaos ensued. Carolina nearly scored at one end, then Ian White ripped a shorthanded goal past the glove of Paulin to send the game to overtime.
Carolina still had four minutes of power play time in overtime, poking and prodding for the right opening. Finally, John Buttitta and Cameron Dimmitt cycled the puck back to Baker in the left-wing circle. After scoring the game's first goal and drawing the Croop penalty, it seemed fitting that Baker would blast home the OT winner - a laser beam past the glove of MacBurnie.
Carolina's emotional 6-5 victory sets up a dramatic finish to this weekend series on Sunday afternoon. Puck drop from the Columbus Civic Center is set for 4:30pm. Follow the action live on Thunderbirds TV and WTOB 96.7fm/980am.