GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A two-goal Tuesday by Filip Zadina and Wade Megan and three-point performances from Zadina, Martin Frk and Matt Puempel put the Grand Rapids Griffins within one win of advancing to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.
With a gritty 6-2 victory over the Chicago Wolves at Van Andel Arena – a game that featured a combined 144 penalty minutes and a near hour delay due to ice repairs – Grand Rapids grabbed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Central Division Semifinals. The Griffins will have a chance to eliminate the division champions for the second time in three years on Wednesday when they host Game 4 at 7 p.m.
Harri Sateri showed his mettle early, denying a breakaway chance by Keegan Kolesar just one minute into the contest for the first of his 35 saves on the night. He’d be called on often during the frame, eventually facing 15 shots to his counterpart Max Lagace’s nine.
A scary incident transpired at the 9:30 mark, when Tyler Wong received a devastating check from Dylan McIlrath while carrying the puck up the left side and through the neutral zone. Wong fell motionless to the ice and was immediately assisted by medical personnel, who attended to him for more than five minutes before taking him off on a stretcher. Reports from the Wolves later indicated that Wong will be okay.
McIlrath was assessed a match penalty for a check to the head, which meant an ejection for him and five minutes of power play time for Chicago. T.J. Tynan earned a measure of retribution for the Wolves during that man-advantage, hammering a one-timer under the crossbar from the right faceoff dot at the 12:31 mark to stake Chicago to the 1-0 lead.
The Griffins pulled even with 32 seconds remaining in the period thanks to Zadina’s first career playoff goal, as from the right goal line he snuck a shot between Lagace and the near post for a goal that was upheld after review.
After having been a healthy scratch for the first two games of the series, Frk announced his return to the lineup by scoring a 4-on-4 goal 2:24 into the second period to put Grand Rapids ahead 2-1. Taking a feed from Turner Elson at the left half-wall, Frk blistered one of his patented slap shots past Lagace for his first playoff goal since his Calder Cup-clinching tally in Game 6 of the 2017 finals versus Syracuse.
Chicago responded 3:32 later to forge its own deadlock, with Tye McGinn rushing in to pop home a shot from the slot, but again the Griffins answered to make it 3-2, as Frk found Megan, the former Wolves star, on the back door with a wide-open net at 9:16.
Megan notched another during a power play at 12:23 to put Grand Rapids up by two. Puempel sped down the left side and below the circle before centering a pass to Megan, who was alone in the slot to slam it past Lagace.
The lead ballooned to three with 3:05 left before intermission. Givani Smith circled behind the net and sent a pass to the bottom of the right circle to Zadina, whose shot trickled through Lagace and over the line before Ryan Wagner swept the puck away.
The start of the third period was delayed for 57 minutes due to ice repairs behind the south goal, with the teams heading back to their locker rooms on two occasions. Play eventually resumed at 10:14 p.m., after which the Wolves were unable to take advantage of three more power plays. Chicago’s frustration with its long, fruitless night was made manifest with more than six minutes remaining, when Alex Gallant took a run at Zadina, plowing him over to draw penalties for interference and misconduct.
During the ensuing 4-on-3 power play, Puempel blasted home a shot from the top of the right circle at 15:02 for the Griffins’ fourth straight goal, with Zadina earning the second assist to join Frk and Puempel at three points on the night.
The Griffins claimed their fifth win in their last six playoff games against Chicago while snapping their 0-5-1-0 skid on home ice that concluded the regular season. Grand Rapids’ last win at Van Andel Arena had come in 5-2 fashion versus Texas on March 6.
Lagace made 19 stops in the loss.
Given Tynan’s first-period tally, it marked the first time this season that the Griffins defeated the Wolves when allowing a power play goal. They are now 1-6 when surrendering one and 4-0 when holding Chicago without. Grand Rapids converted two of four chances while limiting Chicago to 1-for-7.
Notes: Pending the figure announced by Bakersfield later tonight, the Griffins’ Tuesday night attendance of 7,690 could mark the second-largest of the AHL’s 21 first-round crowds thus far, falling shy of only Cleveland (9,342 tonight) while surpassing 10 Friday and Saturday games around the league. It was also Grand Rapids’ second-largest crowd for a playoff opener since 1998 (7,915 in 2016 for Game 3 of CDS)…The Griffins’ 68 PIM were their most in a postseason game since accruing 69 in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at Chicago on April 19, 2002…All time, the Griffins are 3-1 in best-of-five series in which they held a 2-1 lead, including 3-0 in the AHL. Most recently, they went on to claim the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals in four games over Abbotsford…Grand Rapids is 20-18 when its opponent faces playoff elimination, including 9-13 at home.
Three Stars: 1. GR Zadina (two goals, assist); 2. GR Frk (goal, two assists); 3. GR Megan (two goals)