GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Down 3-0 late in the first period and 4-3 entering the third on Saturday, the Grand Rapids Griffins mounted a memorable comeback to stun the Texas Stars in regulation and claim their third straight win, 6-4 at Van Andel Arena.
After Ryan Kuffner tied it 4-4 on a deflection with 5:34 remaining, Chris Terry gave the Griffins their first lead on a power play goal with 2:46 left, and Turner Elson supplied the nightcap with an empty-netter at the 18:55 mark. The forwards’ heroics provided the foundation for Filip Larsson’s second win of the season in his first home appearance, as the rookie shook off some early troubles to enable the rally by stopping 14 of 15 over the final two periods and finishing with 22 saves.
It marked the Griffins’ first victory after being down three goals since a 4-3 shootout win versus Iowa on Dec. 13, 2017, as well as their first such win in regulation since scoring five times in the third period of a 5-3 triumph over Cleveland on Nov. 25, 2016.
Perhaps surprisingly for a team that has won two Calder Cups while making seven straight playoff appearances, the Griffins’ 5-2-0-1 start marks their best since 2008-09 (4-1-2-1), when they also captured 11 points in their first eight games. They’ve since had three 10-point starts: 5-3 in 2016-17, 4-2-1-1 in 2013-14, and 4-2-0-2 in 2010-11.
The Griffins will look to complete a perfect four-game homestand on Wednesday at 7 p.m. when they host the Iowa Wild for their annual Jake Engel Memorial Dog Game.
The Stars, who swept a two-game set from the Griffins in Austin last weekend, jumped on top just 2:02 into the opening period when Emil Djuse’s off-speed slap shot from the left point sailed over Larsson’s far shoulder, banked off the pipe and fell across the line.
Larsson kept the deficit at one by denying a penalty shot by Conner Bleackley with 5:33 left in the frame, but the Stars soon struck twice in a 16-second span to open up a 3-0 advantage. Alone in the left circle during a power play, Brad McClure hammered home a one-timer at 16:40, before Rhett Gardner rushed into the Griffins’ zone and beat Larsson with a snap shot from the top of the right circle.
Dominic Turgeon got one back for Grand Rapids before the period expired, as he pulled up in the right circle and ripped a near-side, top-shelf shot past Landon Bow with 56 seconds showing on the clock.
The Griffins converted that late-period momentum into a fast start for the second, scoring 54 seconds in to make it a 3-2 game. Defenseman Oliwer Kaski displayed the offensive skills that made him a free agent target of the Detroit Red Wings last summer by stickhandling around a defender at the right point, dropping the puck to Filip Zadina in the circle then making a beeline for the bottom of the left circle, where he potted Zadina’s return pass into a wide-open back door.
Texas (3-4-0-2) doubled its cushion during a power play at the 7:28 mark when Jason Robertson collected a Tanner Kero drop pass in the left circle and sent a wrister past Larsson, but the Griffins again clawed back five minutes later to make it 4-3 with the first of their four unanswered goals to conclude the game. Gregor MacLeod lifted a backhand under the bar from close range at 12:32 for his first pro goal off an assist from Terry, while Brian Lashoff also earned an assist to mark the 100th point of his storied Griffins career.
Two quick Stars penalties afforded the Griffins 1:36 of 5-on-3 power play time with 4:29 left in the period to try to net the equalizer, but none of their three shots managed to elude Bow, who also denied a flurry of chances just before the buzzer to maintain Texas’ one-goal margin.
Grand Rapids finally pulled even on its ninth shot of the third period, as Kuffner planted himself at the left post to redirect Joe Hicketts blast from the point with 5:34 remaining. A goalie interference penalty to the Stars’ Nicholas Caamano 70 seconds later presented the Griffins with their fifth power play of the night, and it was all Terry needed to connect from the top of the left circle and nudge Grand Rapids ahead 5-4. After the Stars pulled Bow for an extra attacker in the final minutes, Elson added the insurance into the vacated cage.
Bow’s 32 saves, several in spectacular fashion, could not halt a Stars winless streak that now stands at three (0-2-0-1).
Notes: Only five defensemen have logged 100 points as a Griffin: Travis Richards (238), Nathan Paetsch (142), Robbie Russo (103), Derek Meech (102) and Lashoff…Grand Rapids finished 1-for-5 on the power play while Texas went 2-for-3…The jerseys worn by the Griffins as part of their inaugural Go Orange Night were auctioned to fans afterward, with proceeds benefiting Kids’ Food Basket.
Three Stars: 1. GR Terry (game-winning goal, assist); 2. GR Kuffner (game-tying goal); 3. TEX Djuse (goal, assist)