GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – With a franchise-record eight NHL first-round draft picks in their lineup, the Grand Rapids Griffins pushed their season-high point streak to eight games on Friday with a 4-3 overtime win against the San Diego Gulls at Van Andel Arena.
Griffins and AHL All-Star captain Matthew Ford potted the game-winner 1:06 into the extra session during a 5-on-3 power play, as he found a rebound of a Filip Zadina shot low in the left circle and shoved the puck into a wide-open net to ignite the crowd of 8,219. Grand Rapids’ only lead of the night came after the home team scored four of the final five goals to rally from a 2-0 first-period deficit.
Now 6-0-0-2 in their last eight and 5-0-0-2 on the homestand, the Griffins (20-19-2-4) have nosed above the .500 mark for the first time in just over two months, as they held a 9-8-1-1 record heading into play on Nov. 23. More importantly, Grand Rapids has also climbed into sole possession of fourth place in the Central Division – which represents the final playoff spot – after having resided in the division’s eighth and last place prior to the start of its current streak.
The Griffins will complete their run of eight straight games at Van Andel Arena – tying for the second-longest stretch in team history – when they host a rematch with the Gulls at 7 p.m. Saturday before heading into the AHL All-Star break.
The Griffins, who prior to this season had never had more than five first-round draft picks play for them over the course of an entire season, dressed an unprecedented eight first-rounders for this contest: defensemen Dennis Cholowski, Dylan McIlrath and Moritz Seider, and forwards Matt Puempel, Michael Rasmussen, Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Veleno and Zadina. They had already iced seven first-rounders in seven games this season.
But it was one of the Gulls’ two top picks, Max Jones, who drew first blood, staking out a spot just outside the crease to deflect Daniel Sprong’s feed from the left side past Calvin Pickard for a power play goal 11:25 into the first period. The Gulls added to their lead less than four minutes later during a 4-on-4, as Kiefer Sherwood took a pass from Brendan Guhle at the top of the right circle and snapped a wrister home at the 15:14 mark.
Down 2-0 entering the second, the Griffins quickly filled in half of their hole thanks to Chase Pearson. With Grand Rapids on the penalty kill, Pearson scooped up a loose puck at his blue line and sped up the right side before making a move at the top of the circle and blowing a shot past the glove hand of Anthony Stolarz for a shorthanded goal at 2:11.
Zadina, one of four players assigned to Grand Rapids by Detroit late Wednesday night after he notched his first two-goal game as a Red Wing, knotted the score during a power play at 8:45. Cholowski, another of that quartet, feathered a pass from the left point to the top of the right circle, teeing up Zadina for a one-timer that marked his fifth goal and ninth point in his last nine games as a Griffin. He had missed the Griffins’ last 20 games while on recall to the parent club.
The Griffins had a chance to take the lead while shorthanded in the waning seconds of the period. Dominic Turgeon stole the puck from Josh Mahura at the point and raced up ice, but his breakaway attempt was hindered by a hook from the trailing Mahura, resulting in a penalty shot with 3.1 seconds on the clock. But that try was stuffed by the netminder’s left pad, sending the game into the final 20 minutes tied at 2-2.
San Diego reclaimed its advantage in transition 6:50 into the third, with Troy Terry whipping a low shot past Pickard’s blocker from the top of the left circle. But the margin was erased less than three minutes later thanks to Zadina’s second goal of the night, as he deflected a Brian Lashoff pass into the top of the cage from low in the left circle at 9:45.
Consecutive Grand Rapids penalties resulted in 52 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time for the Gulls with 5:14 remaining, but the Griffins allowed only one shot during San Diego’s two-man advantage before killing off the remainder of the visitors’ power play. The Gulls then returned the favor by taking penalties five seconds apart in the final minute before surviving into overtime, which Grand Rapids began with 1:18 left on its 5-on-3.
Playing past regulation for the third straight game and fourth time in the last five outings, the Griffins needed 10 seconds to set up in the San Diego zone and then stayed there for the duration, working the puck around until Zadina’s slapper from the top of the right circle caromed out front and created Ford’s scoring chance.
Pickard, also fresh from a stint in Detroit, turned aside 33 shots to claim his fourth straight win and improve to 7-1 in his last eight appearances with the Griffins. Stolarz made 34 saves in defeat but could not help his team win the special teams battle, as Grand Rapids finished 2-for-6 on the power play and denied four of San Diego’s five chances.
Notes: Gulls left wing Brent Gates Jr., a native of Grand Rapids and son of former major leaguer Brent Gates, was a healthy scratch but is expected to play in Saturday’s game. The rookie scored his first pro goal against his hometown team in the Griffins’ 4-3 win in San Diego on Dec. 11.
Three Stars: 1. GR Zadina (two goals, assist); 2. GR Ford (overtime goal); 3. SD Jones (power play goal)
[Post content courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins]