WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Michael Spacek’s power play goal with 1:09 remaining on Saturdaygave the Manitoba Moose their only lead of the game, and the home team held on to steal a 3-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins and grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five Central Division Semifinals.
A tripping penalty sent Dylan McIlrath to the box with 2:35 remaining, and Spacek made the Griffins pay by one-timing a Nic Petan feed past Tom McCollum from the left circle. Manitoba’s win broke several streaks for the defending Calder Cup champions, who had won nine straight first-round contests, five consecutive games at Bell MTS Place, five games in a row against the Moose and four straight playoff series openers.
Grand Rapids, which rallied to win two of the previous three best-of-five series in which it lost Game 1, will get right back at it on Sunday in Winnipeg when Game 2 starts at 3 p.m. EDT.
The Griffins built a commanding 16-2 lead in shots over the opening 12-plus minutes but were thwarted time and again by Moose netminder Eric Comrie, who was called into action following Friday’s recall of Second Team AHL All-Star Michael Hutchinson to the Winnipeg Jets. Grand Rapids finally broke through on its 17th attempt, when Ben Street won a faceoff back to Joe Hicketts, collected the puck after Hicketts’ shot hit traffic near the bottom of the right circle and snapped a shot off the left post and into the net at the 12:42mark.
Manitoba was fortunate to escape the first period with that 1-0 deficit after being outshot 20-8, as the Griffins’ total fell one shy of their franchise playoff record for shots in a road period. Comrie’s 19 stops, meanwhile, tied Grand Rapids’ postseason mark for opponent saves during a single road frame.
The Moose turned the tables on Grand Rapids in the second period, doubling up the visitors in the shot department to the tune of 16-8, but this time it was McCollum’s turn to shine. McCollum stopped all 24 shots he faced through the opening 40 minutes, protecting the Griffins’ one-goal margin entering the third period.
Manitoba spoiled McCollum’s bid for the Griffins’ first postseason shutout in five years with 13:38 remaining in the third, when Jan Kostalek’s blast from the point changed direction off Matthew Ford and snuck past McCollum’s stick. Including the regular season, that goal snapped the Griffins’ shutout streak at Bell MTS Place at an incredible 225:29, or more than 11 full periods.
The teams then traded goals in a span of just 31 seconds. Turner Elson gave Grand Rapids the 2-1 advantage, going top-shelf on a sharp-angle shot from the left side at 12:41, but Cameron Schilling quickly answered on shot from the right point with 6:48 remaining.
Following Spacek’s goal, the Griffins pulled McCollum for the extra attacker but could not manage the equalizer. Comrie finished with 34 saves while McCollum answered with 28.
Notes: Elson, Corey Elkins, Luke Esposito, Matt Puempel and Dominik Shine all made their Griffins playoff debuts…Twelve members of Grand Rapids’ 2017 Calder Cup championship squad skated in this contest.
Three Stars: 1. MB Comrie (W, 34 saves); 2. MB Spacek (game-winning goal); 3. GR McCollum (L, 28 saves)