GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 4 at Chicago Wolves 1
ROSEMONT, Ill. – Highlighted by Martin Frk’s memorable return to the lineup, the Grand Rapids Griffins rode a strong team performance to a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Wolves on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Central Division Finals at Allstate Arena.
Playing his first game of this postseason after recovering from an injury, Frk paid immediate dividends by scoring a goal 40 seconds in and recording an assist at the 8:07 mark to stake the Griffins to a 2-0 lead. That was all the offense Grand Rapids would need thanks to a 27-save effort by Jared Coreau and a penalty killing unit that denied four chances for the Wolves’ potent power play.
The Griffins, now 4-0 in these playoffs and 3-0 in their last three postseason games on the road, will stay in the Windy City for Friday’s Game 2 at 8 p.m. EDT before the series turns to Van Andel Arena for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday.
On his first shift of the game, Frk – who hadn’t played since April 9 – picked up a bouncing puck at center ice, sped into the left circle and scooped a backhand that found the far corner over Ville Husso’s glove. He then helped convert Grand Rapids’ first power play opportunity, launching a slap shot from the top of the left circle that Matthew Ford tipped past Husso from the doorstep.
Chicago responded as a division champion should, cutting its deficit in half less than two minutes after Ford’s tally. AHL MVP Kenny Agostino backhanded a puck in the high slot that snuck through the daylight between Coreau’s right arm and body at 9:25.
The goalies began to take over the game at that point, as each logged a string of stellar stops to keep it 2-1 through the end of the second period, with Grand Rapids showing a 28-22 advantage in shots to that point. A delayed penalty to Agostino as the period’s final seconds wound down featured several saves by Husso – whose 19 stops during the second tied a Griffins playoff record for a road period – and presented Grand Rapids with two minutes of power play time on fresh ice to start the third.
The Griffins couldn’t capitalize on their second and final 5-on-4 advantage of the night but they still extended their lead to 3-1 early in that final frame, whenTomas Nosek collected the puck along the end boards, circled out front and slipped another backhand past Husso’s glove at 3:48.
The Wolves’ netminder eventually headed to the bench in favor of an extra attacker with three minutes left, and Ben Street scored into the vacated net from center ice with 1:51 remaining to seal the outcome. Husso finished with 31 saves on 34 shots faced.
With a pair of assists each, Tyler Bertuzzi and Nathan Paetsch are now tied for fifth on the Griffins’ all-time playoff scoring list at 26 points, breaking a tie with Michel Picard (24) and passing Travis Richards (25).
Notes: The Griffins went on to win each of the previous eight best-of-seven series in which they held a 1-0 lead…This game marked the first postseason meeting between Grand Rapids and Chicago since April 23, 2004, when the Wolves finished off a four-game sweep of the West Division Semifinals with an 8-2 win at Allstate Arena…The Griffins, who are in the second round of the playoffs for the fifth straight year and the 10th time in franchise history, have won Game 1 of each of their first two series for the first time since 2003.
Three Stars: 1. GR Frk (goal, assist); 2. GR Coreau (W, 27 saves); 3. GR Ford (power play goal)