GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A potential marquee playoff matchup lived up to its billing on Friday at Van Andel Arena, although the script didn’t have a happy ending for the home team.
Matt Bartkowski finished off a 2-on-1 rush by putting a backdoor deflection past Harri Sateri 4:08 into overtime, lifting the Iowa Wild to a 4-3 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins and into a tie with their hosts for second place in the Central Division, just one point behind Chicago.
Iowa (31-17-7-5), which is trying to earn the first postseason berth in its six-year history, rallied from an early two-goal deficit to improve to 3-0-1-0 in a season series which has seen three of four games extend past regulation time. If the season ended today, Iowa and Grand Rapids would face off in the division semifinals.
The Griffins (32-17-6-4) hopped a bus after the game for Milwaukee, where they’ll face the Admirals at 8 p.m. EST on Saturday.
Grand Rapids needed only 17 seconds and one shot to score the game’s first goal. Picking up the puck in the neutral zone, Martin Frk skated up the left side, pulled up above the circle and launched a cannon that blew past the glove of Andrew Hammond, giving him three goals in seven games with the team this season.
The Griffins extended their shot advantage to 8-1 and their lead to 2-0 at the 7:19 mark, as Givani Smith planted himself in the slot and whipped home a rebound of Dylan McIlrath’s shot from the right point.
The visitors awoke from their slumber to outshoot Grand Rapids 9-1 over the remainder of the period and get on the board 1:16 before intermission. Off a turnover in the Griffins’ end, Sam Anas quickly fired a shot from the high slot that Sateri turned aside, but Mitch McLain pounced on the rebound at the bottom of the right circle and lifted a nifty backhand into the top of the net to cut the Wild’s deficit in half.
Iowa’s Will Bitten scored the second period’s lone goal at the 7:45 mark, deflecting a feed from Cal O’Reilly on the back door to forge a 2-2 tie. But the rest of the frame was far from uneventful, as Bitten’s goal was preceded by a fight between Matt Puempel and Gerald Mayhew and followed by a bout featuring McIlrath and Hunter Warner, and the period was eventually capped off by a scrum in front of the Wild’s net that sent Frk and Bartkowski to the box.
The Wild made it three unanswered goals and took their first lead with 7:25 left in the third. Another Griffins turnover and a broken play resulted in the puck sliding to a wide-open O’Reilly in the right circle, and he blasted a one-timer off Sateri and into the net. But the Griffins pulled even less than a minute later, as Puempel’s shot from the left side fell behind Hammond at the near post before Axel Holmstrom crashed in to push the puck over the line with 6:34 remaining.
After both teams survived late, overlapping penalties to push the game to overtime, the Griffins received another power play early in the extra session after Iowa was caught with too many men but could not capitalize. Then, with timing ticking under a minute, a wide shot by Dominic Turgeon during a 2-on-1 bounced out to center ice and created the odd-man rush that O’Reilly used to feed Bartkowski for the game-winner.
Each team went 0-for-6 on the power play. Hammond (34) doubled-up Sateri’s save total (17), as the Griffins outshot the Wild by a 37-21 margin.
Note: The Griffins wore purple jerseys as part of their eighth annual Purple Community Game to support cancer and Parkinson’s research at the Van Andel Institute.
Three Stars: 1. IA Bartkowski (OT goal); 2. GR Frk (goal); 3. IA O’Reilly (goal, two assists)