GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Given the three-goal deficit the Grand Rapids Griffins faced against the Texas Stars through 17 minutes on Saturday, they’ll take the point.
With the two teams entering the night tied for the fourth playoff position in the Central Division, the Griffins eventually erased the Stars’ lead, but Joel L’Esperance scored a power play goal 1:29 into overtime to lift Texas to a 4-3 victory at Van Andel Arena that nonetheless ceded one standings point to Grand Rapids.
Two of Texas’ goals and all three of the Griffins’ were scored with the man-advantage, with Evgeny Svechnikov potting two in the second period to spark the rally and Eric Tangradi netting the other early in the third to secure that point.
The same teams will go at it again on Sunday in a 4 p.m. start at Van Andel Arena, as they try to break the divisional logjam that now has Chicago in third place with 51 points, Texas in fourth with 50, and Grand Rapids in fifth with 49.
The Stars (23-21-2-2) opened the scoring with a power play goal 6:33 into the first period. Calvin Pickard made a glove save on L’Esperances’s one-timer from the left circle and a left pad stop on Jason Robertson’s point-blank follow-up, but Robertson slipped the second rebound to Anthony Louis at the right post for an uncontested tap-in.
Later in the frame, Pickard made a sprawling left pad save to deny a try by Tanner Kero after the center had slipped through the Griffins’ defense, but 30 seconds later Robertson scored on a breakaway to make it 2-0 with 6:15 remaining. Robertson then notched his second goal and third point of the period at the 16:44 mark after intercepting an exit pass from Dylan McIlrath at the left point. After heading alone toward the net and having his angle cut off by Pickard, Robertson threw the puck into the crease, where it deflected off the skate of Brian Lashoff and into the net.
The disastrous first period featured three failed power play chances for the Griffins, as Texas goalie Jake Oettinger extended his shutout streak against Grand Rapids this season to seven periods. The visitors outshot the Griffins by a 14-7 margin over those 20 minutes.
The Griffins (21-21-3-4) finally snapped Oettinger’s hex at the 14:29 mark of the second period, ending the netminder’s shutout streak against them at 153:56. With Grand Rapids on the power play, Matt Puempel’s shot from above the left circle hit Michael Rasmussen out front, and the puck rebounded to Svechnikov all alone at the right post for the goal.
Svechnikov then made it two goals in a span of just 4:16, hewing the Stars’ lead to 3-2 by setting up in the slot and deflecting Moritz Seider’s point shot past Oettinger with 1:15 left in the frame.
The Stars’ inability to stay out of the penalty box cost them yet again in the third period, in the form of Tangradi’s game-tying power play goal with 13:36 remaining. It was sweet revenge for Tangradi – who sustained a cut above his left eye from the high stick of Oula Palve that resulted in a double minor and another Grand Rapids advantage – as he finished off a mad scramble around the Texas net by popping a close-range shot past several Stars into the top left corner of the cage.
A tripping call on Turner Elson with 2:18 remaining afforded the Stars a great chance to end the game in regulation, but Pickard made three saves over the duration to send it to overtime for the fifth time in the Griffins’ last seven home games.
Puempel took a hooking penalty 51 seconds into the extra session to give the Stars their fourth power play of the night. After calling their timeout, the Stars maintained puck control in the Griffins’ zone until Gavin Bayreuther sent a feed into the left circle for L’Esperance, who blasted his one-timer home at 1:29.
Oettinger stopped 28 shots in the win while Pickard answered with 29 saves. The Griffins, who went 3-for-8 on the power play, have now earned points in 10 of their last 12 games (7-2-1-2). Texas finished 2-for-4.
Note: The attendance of 10,834 marked the Griffins’ third sellout of the season and their second straight crowd in excess of 10,000.
Three Stars: 1. TEX Robertson (two goals, two assists); 2. GR Svechnikov (two goals); 3. TEX L’Esperance (overtime goal, assist)
[Post content courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins]