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Griffins Fall in Final Minute, 2-1

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Sam Iannamico, courtesy of Grand Rapids Griffins

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.– Luck was on the side of the white-and-green clad team on Saturday at Van Andel Arena, as a controversial late penalty led to Alex Grant’s power play goal with only 16 seconds left that lifted the Iowa Wild to a 2-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins.

With 1:40 remaining, Dylan McIlrath was called for holding after he and Kyle Rau jostled for the puck entering the Griffins’ zone, sparking a furious protest by McIlrath. Grant then found the top of the net on a slap shot from the right point to give the Wild their second come-from-behind win in Grand Rapids this week.

Combined with Rockford’s win over Chicago tonight, the second- through fifth-place teams in the Central Division are now separated by just three points: Chicago (75), Iowa (74), Grand Rapids (73) and Rockford (72), with sixth-place Milwaukee (69) close behind.

The end result overshadowed a terrific performance by Tom McCollum, who made 35 saves and had the Griffins on top 1-0 entering the final seven minutes of play despite Iowa finishing with an almost 2-to-1 advantage in shots (37-20).

After playing three home games in the last four days, the Griffins (33-24-1-6) will stage that same number over the final four road-heavy weeks of the regular season. They’ll play the first of their nine remaining road contests on Tuesday, when they visit Milwaukee at 8 p.m. EDT to begin a four-game swing in foreign venues.

McIlrath’s intensity flared early in a fight with Kurtis Gabriel just 32 seconds after the opening faceoff. McIlrath took exception to Gabriel’s hit on Corey Elkins in the corner, and after 30 seconds of posturing and wrestling, the pair furiously exchanged a dozen punches before McIlrath took Gabriel to the ice, much to the delight of the 9,176 fans in attendance.

The Griffins drew first blood on the scoreboard as well, as Matt Lorito battled several Iowa players for control of the puck just to the left of the crease before popping it past Niklas Svedberg at the 11:08 mark.

That goal stood up as the lone tally into the third period, as McCollum did yeoman’s work between the pipes while the Griffins were outshot 23-11 over the first 40 minutes, including 15-6 in the second period.

The shot margin continued to grow until the Wild finally solved McCollum with 6:12 remaining, making the shots 34-17 at that point. Gerry Fitzgerald, playing in his third pro game after completing his senior season at Bemidji State, found a hole in McCollum with an off-speed wrist shot from the slot.

Grand Rapids began to test Svedberg down the stretch, forcing him to stop two tries by Ben Street and stretch out for a glove save on Lorito as the clock wound down to three minutes.

Following McIlrath’ penalty, Iowa (30-18-9-5) called timeout to set up its power play strategy. Grant’s game-winner marked the first power play goal allowed by the Griffins in a span of five games, as they had killed off 19 consecutive opponent advantages.

Svedberg capped off Iowa’s victory with 19 saves.

Three Stars: 1. IA Svedberg (W, 19 saves); 2. IA Grant (game-winning goal); 3. GR McCollum (L, 35 saves)