GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Matt Puempel blistered a one-timer past Mat Robson to break a 1-1 tie with 54 seconds left on Wednesday before Givani Smith potted two empty-net goals, as the third-place Grand Rapids Griffins rode a 20-save effort by Calvin Pickard to a 4-1 win over the second-place Iowa Wild at Van Andel Arena.
Pickard’s bid for a second-straight shutout was spoiled with less than four minutes remaining in the game, but the Griffins prevailed in this potential first-round playoff preview to solidify their standing in the Central Division. Grand Rapids (29-27-3-4) now sits three points up on a postseason spot with 13 games to play.
Winners of three of their last four, the Griffins will wrap up their four-game homestand by hosting a Friday-Saturday set against the Bakersfield Condors at 7 each night.
A scoreless first period was defined by very few stoppages and the Wild’s slim 7-6 shot margin, as well as two more Griffins attempts that rang off the iron behind Robson.
Grand Rapids eventually tallied the first goal 9:23 into the second frame. Robson denied Kyle Wood’s snap shot from the top of the circles but left a rebound on the left side for Eric Tangradi, whose off-speed shot snuck past a defender and through Robson’s wickets for a 1-0 lead.
That margin held until just 3:58 remained on the third-period clock, when Iowa tied matters just 10 seconds into a power play. Luke Johnson ripped a shot past a screened Pickard from the top of the left circle to break the netminder’s shutout streak at 120:50, following his 35-save, 3-0 victory over Rockford last Saturday.
But consecutive penalties on the Wild presented the Griffins with 1:14 of 5-on-3 power play time with just 1:40 left, and the home team took full advantage. Grand Rapids worked the puck around the Iowa zone before Michael Rasmussen found Puempel in the left circle for a slap shot that blew past Robson’s glove.
Smith then added his empty-netters, scoring from long range during a power play at 19:22 before winning a race for the puck and chipping it into the cage at 19:54.
Robson finished with 26 saves for the Wild (37-18-4-4), who wrapped up a six-game road swing with a 2-2-1-1 mark.
The Griffins went 2-for-4 on the power play while Iowa scored on one of its two tries.
Notes: One of three players to be a part of Grand Rapids’ 2017 and 2013 Calder Cup championship teams, defenseman Brian Lashoff played in his 500th regular season game with the Griffins, joining Travis Richards (655) as the only players to hit that milestone out of the 526 who have suited up for Grand Rapids over the last 24 seasons. Lashoff’s 500 games rank first among active AHL players who have spent their entire AHL career with the same club and rank ninth in league history among one-team players. Of the eight players ahead of him on that list, the most recent – and, coincidentally, the record-holder – last played during the 1970-71 season (Bill Needham of the Cleveland Barons, 981 games played)…Defenseman Tory Dello made his pro debut with the Griffins, fresh off his senior season at Notre Dame, after signing an amateur tryout this afternoon.
Three Stars: 1. GR Puempel (game-winning goal); 2. GR Pickard (W, 20 saves); 3. IA Robson (L, 26 saves)
[Post content courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins]