Late 3rd period goal from Conway gives Thunderbirds bounce-back victory

 Winston-Salem, NC – Declan Conway had the first and last laugh Saturday night, score the game’s opening and closing goals in a 3-2 win over Columbus. The win is just Carolina’s first at home against the River Dragons this season.

Entering the game, Conway had scored Carolina’s first goal in four games this season. He lit the lamp for the 5th time Saturday night, just 1:18 into the first period. Crossing paths with Tim Perks, Conway collected the loose puck after a broken pass and slid a backhand shot past Jared Rutledge. Carolina survived an early surge by the River Dragons and managed to outshoot them 13-11 by period’s end. Conway’s goal would stand as the only tally for nearly 40 minutes.

Columbus found their stride in the second period, peppering Brandon Rozzi with 18 shots. The Carolina goaltender dazzled with a number of athletic saves, including several during a particularly lethal Columbus powerplay. Carolina held the River Dragons back until the end of the second. Josh Pietrantonio had scored in both games in Winston-Salem so far this year, and he did so again Saturday night. Speeding down the left wing, Pietrantonio used his size to cut into the slot and unload his 31st goal past the blocker of Rozzi and tie the game at 1-1.

A largely even third period finally found a breaking point at 6:59 of the third period. Austin Daae had crashed into Brandon Rozzi, who responded with a shove to the Columbus forward. Columbus would pick up a powerplay, and Daae found the back of the net with a diving chip from the right-wing circle. Columbus’ lead would last only a few moments. Jay Croop picked up a high-sticking penalty, and Jacob Schnapp snapped a four-game scoring drought to tie the game again, 2-2. With the score even again, both teams relied on their goaltenders to hold the line. Finally, the Thunderbirds broke through. On a give-and-go with Gus Ford, Conway rocketed a shot past the blocker of Rutledge from just two feet off the goal line. The goal came with just 90 seconds left in regulation, and the Thunderbirds weathered a River Dragon onslaught to hold the lead.

Carolina’s 3-2 victory over Columbus is their first at home against the River Dragons in three tries. The rubber match for this 1-1 weekend series is set for Sunday evening at 4:05.