GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.– Mitch Callahan’s hat trick powered the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 6-3 victory over the Chicago Wolves on Monday at Van Andel Arena, staking them to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Central Division Finals.
Eric Tangradi also enjoyed a three-point night via assists while Kyle Criscuolo,Matt Lorito and Evgeny Svechnikov chipped in a pair of points each, offsetting a two-goal effort by the Wolves’ Kenny Agostino, the AHL’s 2016-17 MVP.
After playing four times in six days, these rivals will be idle for the next four before reconvening at Allstate Arena for Game 5 on Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT, when the Griffins will try to earn a berth in the Western Conference Finals for the third time in five years.
Each of the first three games in this series featured three goals in the opening period and at least one by the 5:09 mark, but patience was the order of the day until the Griffins struck at 15:05, two seconds after their first power play expired. From below the goal line, Tangradi threw the puck out front to Callahan, who blasted it past Ville Husso from the bottom of the right circle for his first goal of the playoffs.
Criscuolo pushed the lead to 2-0 just 2:17 into the second period. He took a pass from Lorito at the left half-wall, skated into the circle and snapped a shot past Husso’s glove, but the Wolves answered 2:14 later to quickly pare their deficit back to one. Off an outlet pass by Husso, Chicago burst into the Grand Rapids zone with numbers and Agostino worked a give-and-go with Samuel Blais, one-timing the return pass into the near corner of the net from the right circle.
Agostino struck again during a 4-on-4 four minutes later to knot the score at 2-2. An Andrew Agozzino stretch pass from the goal line hit Agostino in stride at the Griffins’ blue line, and he cruised down the left side with a step on his defender before beating Jared Coreau with a far-side wrist shot from close quarters at 8:30.
That deadlock lasted only 1:14. Taking a pass from Joe Hicketts along the boards in the Griffins’ zone, Martin Frk skated all the way up the left side of the ice before ripping a shot from the circle that split his defender’s legs and snuck between Husso and the near post for another 4-on-4 tally.
The Griffins delivered a heavy blow with only 1.1 seconds remaining in the period, right after the expiration of another power play, when Callahan redirectedRobbie Russo’s cannon from the right point to restore Grand Rapids’ two-goal cushion at 4-2.
The Wolves continued to fight and made it a 4-3 game early in the third when Tage Thompson jammed home his own rebound at the right post 2:42 in, but Lorito again doubled the margin by backhanding a rebound past Husso at the left post at 8:52.
Callahan eventually capped off his hat trick by scoring into an empty net from center ice during a power play with 50 seconds remaining, completing the ninth playoff hat trick in franchise history and the first since Tyler Bertuzzi’s feat in Game 5 of last year’s division finals against Lake Erie.
The win improved Grand Rapids’ playoff record to 6-1, including a perfect 4-0 mark at Van Andel Arena. Coreau, who has played every minute thus far between the pipes for the Griffins, made 24 saves in the win while Husso turned aside 32 shots.
Including the regular season, the Griffins now own an 11-3 mark against the Central Division champions this season.
Notes: The Griffins have never lost a best-of-seven series in which they held a 3-1 lead, winning on all six previous occasions. Those series ultimately ended in Game 5 three times and in Game 6 the other three times…Callahan’s three goals gave him 26 career playoff points, moving him into a tie with captain Nathan Paetsch for sixth place on the franchise’s all-time postseason scoring list…With tonight’s crowd of 6,103 – the league’s third-largest non-weekend attendance of this postseason – the Griffins remain one of only four AHL playoff teams that have drawn 6,000 or more fans to each home game (Grand Rapids 4/4, Hershey 4/4, Lehigh Valley 3/3, Ontario 2/2).
Three Stars: 1. GR Callahan (hat trick); 2. GR Lorito (goal, assist); 3. CHI Agostino (two goals)