Thunderbirds hold off Prowlers, 4-3, in Game 1

Port Huron, MI -- Skating in their first playoff game since winning the Commissioner's Cup in 2019, the Carolina Thunderbirds found themselves in another first round duel with the Port Huron Prowlers on Monday night. Carolina entered McMorran Arena having experienced mixed results in the season, winning only three of seven in the Prowlers' arena during the regular season. The Thunderbirds also entered Monday night's contest looking to snap a four-game losing streak.

Nick Modica got his first career playoff start in Game 1. Though his performance was stellar, Modica's night began on a sour note. The Prowlers found the back of the net on a backdoor tap-in. Game 1 was just 41 seconds old, and the Prowlers had the 1-0 lead. Modica quickly found his game in the remaining first period, racking up 15 saves in the game's first 20 minutes. The Thunderbirds began to find an offensive footing, but the Prowlers dictated play in the period. They took a 1-0 lead and 16-8 shot advantage into the first intermission. 

Though it wasn't quite as quick of a start, the Thunderbirds returned the favor with an early goal in the second period. Gus Ford set several scoring records in the regular season with his dazzling play. Cutting down the right wing in Game 1, he slid the puck between the legs of Paul Arnott, threw the puck past Gino Mini to a wide open Dawson Baker for the backdoor tap-in. The goal was the only one in the second period, thanks partly to a brilliant save by Modica in its final seconds. As Joe Pace threw the puck out from behind the net, Modica lunged from left to right, stopping a point-blank chance with his right arm. Carolina and Port Huron would enter the third period tied at 1-1.

Nathan Campbell found some puck luck almost halfway through the third. Sweeping the puck toward the slot from the left face-off circle, he banked it off a Prowler defenseman and behind goaltender Cory Simons. Carolina would continue its offensive zone productivity soon after, as Cody Oakes waited for a lane to open before writing a shot from the right point. Oakes' first career playoff goal gave the Thunderbirds a two-goal cushion. The lead would stretch to 4-1 later in the period as John Buttitta deflected a Nathan Campbell shot from the left point between the legs of Simons.

The Prowlers wouldn't go away quietly. With the goalie pulled, Sam Marit buried another backdoor feed from Dalton Jay inside two minutes remaining in regulation. Then, Matt Graham cleaned up a broken play with 39 seconds left, bringing the game to within a goal. Despite the Port Huron surge and a delay of game penalty to Jiri Pestuka, the Thunderbirds held on for the 4-3 win in Game 1. Nick Modica stopped 33 of 36 shots in his first career playoff game. Each of the four Thunderbirds who scored did so in their first FPHL playoff game. 

Game 2 between Carolina and Port Huron is scheduled for 7pm on Tuesday night in Winston-Salem. If necessary, Game 3 will be held Wednesday night in Winston-Salem, and is a 7pm puck drop as well.