GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A dominant four-goal second period propelled the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 6-2 victory over the San Jose Barracuda on Friday at Van Andel Arena, moving the Griffins within one win of playing for the Calder Cup for the second time in five years.
On the strength of Eric Tangradi’s three-point night, the second-largest crowd (8,707) to ever see a conference finals game in Grand Rapids witnessed the Griffins hand San Jose consecutive regulation losses for just the third time all season.
Now leading the Western Conference Finals three games to one, the Griffins will have a chance to close out the conference’s regular season champions at home on Saturday when they host the Barracuda at 7 p.m. Grand Rapids has yet to lose a game on home ice during the playoffs, as it set a postseason record tonight with its sixth consecutive victory at Van Andel Arena.
The Barracuda scored the lone goal of the opening period on a penalty shot at the 13:57 mark, after Tangradi had slashed Colin Blackwell from behind to deny him a scoring opportunity on a breakaway. In just the third opponent penalty shot in Griffins playoff history, Blackwell became the first foe to convert by freezing Jared Coreau with a deke before depositing the puck inside the right post.
Grand Rapids thoroughly dominated the second, scoring four unanswered goals and outshooting San Jose 19-5 to take a 4-1 lead into the final 20 minutes. Tyler Bertuzzi put the Griffins on the board at 4:07 with his 20th career playoff goal, second only to Teemu Pulkkinen’s 22 in franchise lore. Tangradi’s shot from the right circle hit Kyle Criscuolo at the near post and fell to the ice, and Criscuolo quickly slid a pass across the goalmouth to Bertuzzi for a redirection past the right pad of a sliding Troy Grosenick.
An incredible effort by Tangradi put the Griffins ahead at 9:42. Winning a battle for the puck in the left corner, he fought through Blackwell to get to the top of the crease and stuff a backhand home.
Tangradi pushed his postseason haul to 15 points – matching Ben Street for team leadership – by assisting on Tomas Nosek’s power play goal less than three minutes later. Nosek lifted the puck over Grosenick’s left shoulder from the bottom of the right circle at 12:39, extending the Griffins’ team-record playoff streak of scoring a power play goal to 10 games.
The carnage continued 2:39 before intermission. From the left half-wall in the Griffins’ zone, Nosek sent a perfect stretch pass to center ice to spring Martin Frk on a breakaway, and Frk lasered a shot past Grosenick’s glove for the three-goal cushion.
San Jose trimmed its deficit back to two just 2:58 into the third when Adam Helewka connected on a snap shot from the top of the right circle during a power play, but the Griffins responded 50 seconds later when Street caught up with a puck in the right circle and sniped it into the far corner to make it a 5-2 contest.
To no one’s surprise the game took a physical and penalty-filled turn from that point, as the teams combined for 80 penalty minutes during the third, enabling the Griffins to pour it on with another power play goal courtesy of Evgeny Svechnikov with 2:43 remaining.
The Griffins, who eliminated Milwaukee and Chicago in their first opportunities in rounds 1 and 2 (both on the road), have won three straight home games in which their opponent faced elimination – Milwaukee in 2016, Toronto in 2015 and Abbotsford in 2014 – and six straight elimination games overall, dating back to the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Coreau improved his playoff record to 10-2 by making 26 saves. His counterpart, AHL Goaltender of the Year Grosenick, made 30 stops while surrendering six goals for the first time since Nov. 5.
Notes: The last time a Grand Rapids playoff opponent attempted a penalty shot was on April 28, 2006 (Toronto’s John Pohl vs. Drew MacIntyre)…In their history, the Griffins have won all seven best-of-seven series in which they held a 3-1 lead, closing it out in Game 5 four times and Game 6 three times.
Three Stars: 1. GR Tangradi (goal, two assists); 2. GR Nosek (power play goal, assist); 3. GR Street (goal, assist)