CEDAR PARK, Texas – In their third Leap Day game, the Grand Rapids Griffins suffered their fourth straight defeat as the Texas Stars took home a 4-2 victory on Saturday at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
The Griffins (26-26-3-4) jumped out to a two-goal lead in the early stages of the second period before Texas (24-26-2-4) scored four unanswered to take the two points. With an assist in the contest, Joe Hicketts became the 43rd Griffins player to record 100 points (15-85—100) and only the sixth blueliner to reach the century mark. The race for the final two playoff spots in the Central Division became even tighter as Grand Rapids and Rockford are tied for third, while Chicago and San Antonio sit just one point back.
The Griffins will continue their road trip through Texas when they travel back to San Antonio for the final time to take on the Rampage on Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST.
Grand Rapids got things going on a power-play goal by Joe Veleno, who has scored in consecutive games for the first time in his AHL career. At 16:10 of the first period, Matt Puempel fired a shot from the left point that was saved but the rebound was hammered home by Veleno at the bottom of the right circle. The Griffins were held scoreless in the previous 150:47 inside the H-E-B Center.
The Griffins scored once more on a power play that trickled into the middle frame to take a 2-0 lead at the 1:01 mark. From the right circle, Puempel sent a pass through the zone toward Michael Rasmussen near the left post. Rasmussen easily tapped in the puck past the right skate of Jake Oettinger for his seventh of the season.
The first of four unanswered tallies by the Stars came with 16:28 remaining in the second when Riley Tufte netted his third of the campaign. Texas won a face-off inside the Griffins’ zone and Rhett Gardner smashed a shot from the right circle that was saved by Calvin Pickard. However, the puck slid into the low slot and Tufte placed his attempt over the left shoulder of the netminder.
Ondrej Vala’s first AHL goal at 9:28 evened the scoreline 2-2. From the right wing, Jason Robertson sent a pass to the left circle and Vala’s wrist shot sailed over the glove of Pickard.
The Griffins entered the final frame with 13 attempts and did not tally a shot in the period until Eric Tangradi sent the disk on net at 7:59. The offense remained stagnant and the Stars took their first lead of the contest with 7:26 left. A lose puck behind the net was flicked on by Josh Melnick to Gardner who skated toward the top of the crease. Gardner’s shot snuck through the five-hole of Pickard for his eighth of the year.
Just 44 seconds later, the Stars took a two-goal advantage over the Griffins when Robertson scored his team-high 22nd of the season. From the right circle, Tye Felhaber found a streaking Robertson on the left wing. Robertson skated into the slot and rifled the puck past the blocker of Pickard to give Texas a 4-2 victory.
The Griffins were held to only 20 shots compared to 27 by the Stars, which matched a season low for Grand Rapids. The road penalty kill continued to be strong for the Griffins as they went 3-for-3 in the contest and have warded off their last 26 road infractions. The Griffins’ power play went 2-for-4.
Notes: Pickard was credited with 23 saves…Defenseman Patrick McCarron made his season debut for the Griffins after being signed to a professional tryout on Feb. 28…Grand Rapids is now 1-2 in games played on Leap Day.
Three Stars: 1. TEX Gardner (goal, assist); 2. TEX Robertson (goal, assist); 3. TEX Vala (goal)
[Post content courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins]