MILWAUKEE - Tyler Bertuzzi picked up where he left off during last year's playoffs, popping home a pair of goals to pace the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 3-1 victory over the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday in Game 1 of the Central Division Semifinals at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Martin Frk factored into each Grand Rapids goal and Tom McCollum made 32 saves as the Griffins stole home-ice advantage away from the division champions. Milwaukee will host Game 2 of the best-of-five series on Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT before the action switches to Van Andel Arena for Game 3 on Tuesday and, if necessary, Game 4 on Wednesday.
The Griffins failed on a pair of early power play chances - thanks in part to Juuse Saros' right pad save on Frk's breakaway 2:13 into the contest - only to see the Admirals capitalize during a two-man advantage at the 13:30 mark. With Grand Rapids scrambling around its own net after a pair of saves by McCollum, Trevor Murphy drilled a one-timer inside the near post from the top of the right circle.
Bertuzzi answered for the Griffins 2:06 later. After Frk's blast from the high slot was blocked by a diving Stefan Elliott, Bertuzzi picked up the loose puck along the edge of the right circle and quickly whipped it past Saros' glove to make it a 1-1 game through 20 minutes.
Frk scored the first AHL playoff goal of his career to give the Griffins the lead 11:44 into the middle frame, as he hammered a Ryan Sproul feed into the back of the net from the left circle. Less than four minutes later, Sproul threw a pass from the end boards out front to Bertuzzi, who slammed it past Saros at 15:04 for his ninth goal in just 15 postseason games with the Griffins, putting the visitors ahead 3-1.
It was all McCollum from that point, as he stopped 12 shots during the third period to preserve the win and improve his all-time postseason mark to 10-6, tying Jani Hurme and Marc Lamothe for third on the franchise's playoff wins list. Saros finished with 19 saves in his first-ever Calder Cup contest.
Notes: The Griffins are now 5-3 all time in Game 1 of a best-of-five series. They won two of the previous four series in which they led 1-0...Bertuzzi already ranks second among active Griffins in career playoff goals, trailing only Jeff Hoggan (11 goals in 51 games)...Daniel Cleary played his first Calder Cup Playoff game since 2000, when he was a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs...Todd Nelson became the sixth head coach to win his playoff debut with Grand Rapids, joining Curt Fraser (2009), Greg Ireland (2006), Danton Cole (2003), Bruce Cassidy (2001) and Dave Allison (1997).
Three Stars: 1. GR Bertuzzi (two goals); 2. GR McCollum (W, 32 saves); 3. MIL Murphy (goal)
Game two is in Milwaukee tonight at 8pm