GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.– Mitch Callahan banged home a loose puck from the left side of the net with 3:40remaining on Wednesday to give the Grand Rapids Griffins their first lead of the night before Tomas Nosek scored into an empty cage in the final minute to seal a 4-2 victory over the San Jose Barracuda in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
San Jose built an early 2-1 lead that held for more than 30 minutes until Matt Lorito’s equalizer on the power play 6:40 into the third period, the start of three unanswered goals by the Griffins that enabled them to seize a 2-1 series lead and maintain home-ice advantage over the West’s regular season champions.
The Griffins will remain at Van Andel Arena to host Game 4 on Friday and Game 5 on Saturday. Game time each night is 7 p.m.
The Barracuda were penalized for an incorrect starting lineup less than two minutes into the game, as captain John McCarthy was marked as a starter on San Jose’s lineup card but Ryan Carpenter took the opening draw. But the visitors managed to kill off the rare penalty and, in an ironic twist, McCarthy scored the game’s first goal shortly after its expiration. Nosek turned the puck over at the Grand Rapids blue line and McCarthy skated in uncontested before sweeping a backhand past Jared Coreau at 5:19.
Not to be outdone, the Griffins’ captain tied matters at the 13:47 mark. From the right circle, Eric Tangradi attempted a cross-ice pass that deflected off a skate in the slot, and Nathan Paetsch quickly slammed the loose puck past Troy Grosenick for the second goal in his franchise-record 70 career playoff games with Grand Rapids.
Only 1:13 later it was time for the other half of San Jose’s lineup snafu to light the lamp, making it a 2-1 advantage for the Barracuda. Carpenter raced up the right side to pick up the puck along with boards in the neutral zone and sped to the top off the circle before snapping a wrist shot inside the far post.
One of the best chances for either team during the scoreless second period came seven minutes in when a Griffins dump-in took an odd carom out into the slot as Grosenick went behind the net to play it, but a pair of San Jose defenders prevented Nosek from getting a shot off on the vacated net.
The Griffins had another near miss more than five minutes into the third when Tangradi hacked away at the puck at the left post but was unable to dislodge it from between Grosenick’s skates and jam it over the line. Grand Rapids was soon presented with a power play and netted the tying goal off the stick of Lorito, who collected the rebound of Martin Frk’s blast to the right of the net and used his quick hands to stuff it inside the post behind the sprawled netminder at 6:40.
With time ticking under four minutes to play, California native Callahan called on his hot hand to score his fifth goal in the last five games, knocking home the puck after it squirted out from under Grosenick. San Jose then pulled its goalie with 90 seconds left and Nosek sent the puck the length of the ice into the empty net at 19:01 for the final margin.
The Griffins’ 42 shots were the most San Jose has allowed this postseason. Grosenick stopped 38 of the 41 he faced while Coreau improved to 9-2 in these playoffs by making 31 saves.
Notes: The crowd of 6,009 was the third-largest ever for a conference finals game at Van Andel Arena (20 games) and the largest among non-weekend games… Grand Rapids finished 1-for-3 with the man-advantage, extending its team-record playoff streak of scoring a power play goal to nine games…In their history, the Griffins have won eight of nine best-of-seven series in which they held a 2-1 lead, including each of the last four.
Three Stars: 1. GR Callahan (game-winning goal); 2. GR Paetsch (goal, assist); 3. SJ Grosenick (L, 38 saves)