The Grand Rapids Griffins extended their win streak to 13 straight games Friday night with a 5-4 win over the Texas Stars. This was the first time the Stars have visited Grand Rapids this year, and thus was the first time former Griffins Brennan Evans and Mattias Backman played against their former team. The Griffins did a short pre-game ceremony to honor Evans and Backman and it was a nice gesture.
The Griffins started off slowly and it cost them a 2 goal deficit just 4:08 into the opening period with Travis Morin scoring 38 seconds in, and Justin Dowling scoring on the Stars power play at 4:08. Jeff Hoggan capitalized on a Stars giveaway in their own end at 6:32 of the 1st period and the Griffins would enter the intermission down by a goal. Most of the 1st period was ugly to watch from a Griffins perspective and given their start, things could have gotten ugly.
Instead of letting their slow start get to them, the Griffins came out much better in the 2nd period. Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Xavier Ouellet had a great period even though they didn't cash in on their opportunities. Finally with 2:09 left in the 2nd period, Marty Frk tied the game for the Griffins on the power and it looked like that's how the period would end. Frustratingly however, Brendan Ranford gave the Stars the lead once again with 2 seconds left in the period. The Griffins skaters looked like they anticipated the clock winding down before it actually did and were caught off guard when the puck came out from behind their net and Ranford was streaking up the slot uncontested.
Ouellet once again gained the zone for the Griffins (this was a recurring theme of the night), Russo does a great job of feeding the puck to Frk, and Frky released his cannon of a shot. Rewatch this sequence and just watch Anthony Mantha and you'll see a great example of his doing exactly the right things even when he doesn't have the puck. He goes right to the front of the net, then retrieves the puck in the corner, holds off a Stars Defender and helps get the puck to Russo. He then goes right back to the front of the net where he's helping screen Campbell on Frk's goal. A wonderfully executed power play shift by Mantha here.
The Griffins played the third period much more like themselves, not only by scoring 3 goals and allowing a single one against, but also by playing much more dominant hockey. Just 44 seconds into the 3rd period, Tyler Bertuzzi tied the game for Grand Rapids when he got a stick on a fluttering puck sent towards the net by Mark Zengerle.
Bertuzzi got checked face first into the goal post in return for going ot the net, but he recovers and stays in front, looking for an opportunity. Mark Zengerle feeds him right in the slot and Bert makes a great shot up over a sprawling Stars defender and past Campbell.
Then at 14:26 Anthony Mantha drove to the net and collected Xavier Ouellet's rebound shot on the power play and gave the Griffins their first lead of the game.
Once again watch Anthony Mantha on this powerplay. He goes to the net, retrieves the rebound in the corner, circles back towards the net, passes the puck back to Ouellet, then drives to the net again and puts in the rebound. The Griffins power play before the last 2 games was 0 for 19, and a huge reason for their previous lack of success has been not getting anyone inside. Well, Anthony Mantha's doing exactly what the Griffins need done and he's making a big impact by doing so.
While we were all still celebrating Mantha's goal, Nick Jensen took a shot from the right point and Louis-Marc Aubry tipped it past Jack Campbell to give the Griffins a 5-3 lead at 15:20 of the 3rd period. Less than a minute later, Texas brought it within a goal when Curtis McKenzie redirected a Travis Morin shot past Jared Coreau. Texas pulled their goalie with 2 minutes to go but the Griffins were determined not to let them tie the game. The final faceoff of the game came with 3.1 seconds left deep in the Griffins zone to the left of Coreau and knowing he needed to win the faceoff, Coach Nelson wisely sent Tomas Nosek out, to win it and kill the clock. Mission accomplished! The Griffins pulled off a 5-4 win despite a rough start
Jared Coreau stopped 27 of the 31 shots Texas put on him and won his 9th straight game. Coreau now has a 11-2-2 record with a .930 SV% (5th best in the league) and 2.28 GAA 7th best in the league). He'll start again tonight when the Griffins take on the Stars again in Van Andel and look for their 14th win in a row.
Andreas Athanasiou made his return to the lineup after missing 2 games with a lower body injury.
The Griffins will be without Mitch Callahan for 4-6 weeks after he suffered another broken jaw after being hit with a puck in practice Friday morning. Without Callahan available,
Joel Rechlicz was inserted into the lineup Friday night but only played a couple shifts in the 1st period.
The Griffins recapped Zach Nastasiuk from the Toledo Walleye, where he has 6 points in 7 games played, including 4 points in his 2 games since being reassigned after his injury in Grand Rapids.
Xavier Ouellet was incredible all game long. He was leading the rush, holding pucks in at the point, walking the line, taking shots and creating rebounds, and was fantastic in his own end as well. He assisted on 2 of the Griffins 5 goals and all night long I was constantly saying to anyone who would listen "There's Ouellet again".
Anthony Mantha's smoking hot right now, but even more impressive than his 9 points (4 goals and 5 assists) in his last 5 games is how he's playing away from the puck, driving the net, asserting himself, backchecking, and his overall play. Two big thumbs way up for Mantha.
Grand Rapids (15-8-0-1) moved within one victory of the franchise-record home winning streak of 10 games set twice before, most recently during the 2003-04 campaign. The Griffins, whose 13 wins in a row constitute the second-longest streak in the AHL over the last eight seasons, will look for No. 14 on Saturday in a 7 p.m.rematch with the Stars, after which they will have six days off for the Christmas break.