GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Rebounding from their first loss of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs 23 hours earlier, the Grand Rapids Griffins showed their resolve on Saturday with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Wolves at Van Andel Arena.
Showing no hangover from Friday’s 7-3 defeat in the Windy City, the Griffins got goals from Matthew Ford, Ben Street and Tyler Bertuzzi before the game was 11 minutes old, and Jared Coreau made 27 saves to help Grand Rapids preserve the home-ice advantage that it earned with Wednesday’s Game 1 triumph.
The Griffins, who seized a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Central Division Finals while improving their postseason record to 5-1, will look to stay perfect on home ice (3-0) when they host Game 4 on Monday at 7 p.m.
The Griffins’ power play connected for the fourth time during this series 5:09 into the opening period. After Martin Frk’s try from close range was denied by Ville Husso, a mad scramble for the rebound ensued until Ford chipped the puck into the net from just outside the crease for his team-high fourth goal of the playoffs.
A 60-second span midway through the frame proved decisive, and it began when Robbie Russo swept a loose puck from Coreau’s crease and out of harm’s way. At the 10-minute mark, Street finished off a 2-on-1 by burying Mitch Callahan’s feed from the left circle, and exactly 30 seconds later, Bertuzzi cleaned up a goalmouth scrum by slamming home a rebound at the right post, sending the throng of 8,764 into a frenzy.
The Griffins, who replicated the Wolves’ 3-0 first period from last night, sent Husso (six saves on nine shots) to an early shower with Bertuzzi’s goal, which ushered Jordan Binnington into the game for his first action of the postseason.
Grand Rapids maintained its three-goal margin through the second intermission, racking up a 29-18 shot advantage in the process. But Chicago finally got on the board 4:10 into the third, when defenseman Chris Butler’s routine-looking shot from above the right circle seemed to surprise and handcuff Coreau.
Sparked by their new life, the Wolves pulled within 3-2 at the 6:22 mark, as Mackenzie MacEachern potted Bryce Gervais’ centering pass to make the Van Andel Arena partisans more than a little nervous. Only 16 seconds later, though, order and a two-goal lead were restored when Joe Hicketts’ shot from the left half-wall somehow found its way through Binnington, who was otherwise strong with 30 saves in relief.
The Wolves eventually pulled their netminder for an extra attacker with 2:15remaining, a strategy that was neutralized when Samuel Blais was whistled off for elbowing with 1:29 left.
Of the six previous occasions in which the Griffins won Game 3 of a best-of-seven series that was tied 1-1, they went on to claim the series five times. Overall, they’ve won seven of eight best-of-sevens in which they held a 2-1 lead.
Notes: Bertuzzi’s goal marked his 28th career playoff point, tying him with Jiri Hudler for third place on the Griffins’ all-time list, and extended his point streak to six games, equaling the team’s longest in a postseason since 2006. In addition, his 17 playoff goals now stand second in Griffins history behind Teemu Pulkkinen’s 22, while his eighth game-winning goal extended his franchise record…The crowd of 8,764 was the largest for a Griffins home playoff game since Game 4 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals, the team’s second-largest since the 2013 Calder Cup Finals, and the fifth-largest in this year’s Calder Cup Playoffs. Of the AHL’s 43 playoff crowds so far, the Griffins’ three home dates all rank in the top 13.
Three Stars: 1. GR Hicketts (goal, assist); 2. GR Tomas Nosek (two assists); 3. GR Bertuzzi (game-winning goal)
This game was decently nasty, with a lot of penalty minutes perhaps not doing justice to how close things may have gotten to clearing the benches. There was a scrum at the end of the 2nd where a few punches were thrown at tackled players and Dan Renouf was horse-collared. Hicketts was the target of an elbow not once but twice in this one, and Hronek got to sit in the penalty box with a towel for his bloody mouth for apparently embellishing a roughing call.
As noted above, Tyler Bertuzzi is a playoff beast and he & Nosek have great chemistry together. Watching Martin Frk haul back for a slapper is like seeing Fulton Reed do it: the Wolves seemed to freeze in place with it. Not sure it will translate up, but it’s entertaining at the AHL level at least.
After Monday’s game four, the schedule has them off again until Saturday. It sure would be nice for the Griffins to head back to Chicago with a long rest thinking about closing out the series rather than trying to figure out how to get the lead back.