The Griffins had to win 3 games in a row at home to vanquish the Marlies, and last night they kept the winning going. Led by Teemu Pulkkinen's hat trick, the Griffins knocked off the IceHogs 5-3. took a 1-0 series lead.
All in a day's work for Teemu Pulkkinen.
Anthony Mantha has been in the news a lot lately, mostly as a result of Jimmy Devellano's stupid comments. It's been a (very very very?) rough rookie season for Mantha, but he came out and played better in the first ten minutes of this game than he had in any of the 1st round games, hands down. His much improved play was rewarded with an assist on Kevin Porter's goal just 2:01 into the game to give the Griffins the 1-0 lead they'd carry into the 2nd period. Mantha was
The Griffins line of Kevin Porter - Andreas Athanasiou - Anthony Mantha got the puck deep in the IceHogs' zone, and Mantha and Porter gave chase as the puck went around the boards behind Michael Leighton's net. Mantha hang back closer to the middle of the ice as Porter and Athanasiou engaged in the board battle for the puck. While being tripped up, Athanasiou managed to chip the puck right out and directly on to Mantha's stick. Mantha passed it to Porter who was in the faceoff circle to the right of Leighton and just threw a backhander at the net as he was sandwiched between 2 Hogs defenders. Leighton left his 5-hold completely open and gave up a very soft goal, but the Griffins would take it.
Each team took one minor penalty in the first period and neither team scored on the powerplay. Overall the period was about what this series was expected to be, fairly even. Each team had 14 shots on goal and the Griffins had a 1-0 lead when the horn sounded.
(I wasn't able to watch the 2nd and 3rd periods, so J.J. was kind enough to provide the breakdown for them. Thanks J.J.)
Things started fairly even in the 2nd period, but the IceHogs were definitely getting the better chances. Thomas McCollum had to make a number of saves while the Griffins occasionally counter-punched. However, about halfway through the period, the IceHogs tied it up on a rush into the Griffins' zone. Alexey Marchenko chased back and eliminated his man from the play, allowing Tomas Nosek to pull it away from danger and pass it across the slot to Nathan Paetsch. Unfortunately, Paetsch mishandled the pass and the Rockford forechecker Garret Ross picked it off, feeding it back across to Mark McNeill for an easy one-timer.
From that point, the Griffins responded well. Teemu Pulkkinen regained the lead for Grand Rapids five minutes after it was tied as Tyler Bertuzzi hits him gunning through center ice. Pulk plays it through two defenders and then bodies through the gap to get in all alone where he goes backhand-forehand on Michael Leighton to slip it inside the near post. Three more minutes after that, Pulkkinen makes it 3-1 on another feed from Bertuzzi. This time it's a rush up the right wing side for Lil Bert that he goes to take behind the net. Just before he clears the near post, Bertuzzi passes it back in front. The IceHogs' defender gets his stick on the centering pass, but he can't control it. Pulkkinen is crashing the middle and he finds it for the goal. The Griffins took three penalties in the 2nd period but Nosek and Athanasiou were PKing stars.
I don't think the Griffins had a shot on net by the time Rockford scored the second goal to make it 3-2. Rockford brings it up the left wing on a rush where Abbott leaves it at the top of the circle for Johns to step into the drop pass. The Rockford blueliner walks it to the dot and snipes it top corner over McCollum's glove. Things didn't get much better for the next six minutes as Rockford tied it. The IceHogs got extended zone time and got the Griffins chasing. Eventually Stephen Johns got a bit of space to take a few steps in from the point and blast a slapper through traffic. Garret Ross tipped it up over McCollum's shoulder and tied it. After the game was tied, the Griffins found their feet again. It was a few more minutes where it looked like Rockford might take the lead, but it was generally even play. Finally, a broken outlet from Rockford let to a 3-on-2 rush from the Icehogs' blue line with Nosek coming up the left side. Nosek tries a cross-ice pass from above the dot, but it's blocked. Fortunately, the puck comes right back to him and from right on the icing line, Nosek throws it back across to find Pulkkinen on the back door for the easy game-winner.
The IceHogs pulled the goalie and put good pressure on, but the defenders played their lanes very well. Andreas Athanasiou had a blocked shot and a great hustle up ice on a race to a loose puck. Knowing that he couldn't win the battle cleanly, he instead takes position to nullify the defender, allowing Aubry to skate onto the loose puck and backhand it into the open net to salt the game away. Things got chippy in the last few moments, Cody Bass slashed Andy Miele before the next faceoff and the two went after each other; both earned misconducts to get them out of the game. Another scuffle happened moments later where Brennan Evans somehow took the only penalty. Finally, Ryan Hartman earned the last penalty of the game for a dirty clipping play as time is winding down.
3 Stars of the game:
1) Teemu Pulkkinen (hat trick)
2) Tyler Bertuzzi (2 assists)
3) Stephen Johns (goal, assist)
Teemu Pulkkinen has 9 goals in 6 playoff games and, not surprisingly, leads the AHL in both postseason points and goals. Jeff Blashill talked about Pulkkinen's ability to score and desire to win in a radio interview this morning, but good lord does Pulkkinen just keep scoring goals. It's just not even fair to opposing goalies. Not only can Pulkkinen score goals like it's, well, his job, but he's frequently the first forward back and making sure he's doing what he needs to do to play in the NHL. Oddly enough, Blashill said Pulkkinen could have played better, but even on a night when he's not at his best, he still had a hatty.
Game 2 in Friday night in Grand Rapids at 7pm. If you're thinking about getting to the game, please do. Let's pack the Freezer on Fulton and cheer on our Griffs.