GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Carter Camper, Vili Saarijarvi and Matt Puempel fueled an explosion of four power play goals on Saturday that drove the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 5-2 home victory over the Belleville Senators and into first place in the Central Division.
Camper assisted on all four power play goals, marking the first four-assist game by a Griffin since Andy Miele’s on Dec. 19, 2014, while Saarijarvi and Puempel each had a goal and two assists during the potent man-advantage. Harri Sateri then preserved Grand Rapids’ three-goal cushion during an ultimately scoreless third period by denying 24 shots, one shy of the franchise record for saves in a single period, and finished the night with 41 stops.
At 21-12-3-4, the Griffins stand alone in first place in the Central Division for the first time this season, as their 49 points are one more than the second-place Chicago Wolves. The two titans will clash in the Windy City on Wednesday in an 8 p.m. EST start at Allstate Arena.
Fresh off the Senators’ 4-3 shootout win on Friday, the two teams felt out each other for much of the opening period, with Belleville not registering its first shot until 7:59 remained in the frame. The Griffins, who had six of their own at that point, finished the period with an 11-5 advantage and made two of them count on the scoreboard in the final five minutes.
Right after a big Sateri save, Chris Terry collected the puck in left corner and lofted it far down the ice, where Turner Elson won the race for it and immediately solved Filip Gustavsson from the left faceoff dot at 15:28.
Wade Megan made it 2-0 by scoring with one second left in a Belleville penalty, marking just the second time since October that the Griffins have scored power play goals in consecutive games. Puempel threaded a pass through traffic and into the right circle to Camper, who found Megan planted just outside the crease for a redirection at 18:09.
The goals came fast and furious during the second, starting with a pair by the visitors within a span of 2:30. Logan Brown, the hero of last night for Belleville with his shootout-clinching goal, snapped a wrister past Sateri from the left circle for a power play goal at 5:52, before Morgan Klimchuk tallied in similar fashion on a shot that hugged the ice and knotted the score.
Grand Rapids’ league-worst power play, whose only three-goal effort all season had come on Nov. 30, took advantage of a Senators parade to the penalty box by lighting the lamp three times in only 2:35 to put the Griffins up 5-2. Saarijarvi factored in all three goals, kicking off the flurry with a seeing-eye wrister from the top of the circles at 12:03 before setting up Puempel’s slap shot from the top of the left arc at 13:49. He earned the second assist on the capper at 14:38, as Camper spotted Axel Holmstrom in the slot for a redirection that gave Grand Rapids three power play goals in one period for the first time since Feb. 24, 2013 (7-3 win over San Antonio).
Outside of the overwhelming number of shots by Belleville, the only real drama of the final 20 minutes occurred nine minutes in, when a collision between Sateri and a backchecking Trevor Hamilton at the side of the net resulted in a wild scramble to get back into position, with Sateri first playing without his stick and then with a teammate’s twig until order was restored.
The Griffins’ four power play tallies on the night were their most since Feb. 5, 2016 (4-for-10 in a 9-1 win at Rockford) and their most at home since Nov. 20, 2015 (4-for-9 in a 7-4 win over San Diego). Grand Rapids had five opportunities, converting all but its first, and limited Belleville to a 1-for-5 performance.
Gustavsson made 21 saves for the Senators (18-21-2-0), whose modest two-game winning streak was snapped.
Three Stars: 1. GR Camper (four assists); 2. GR Saarijarvi (power play goal, two assists); 3. GR Puempel (power play goal, two assists)