Griffins’ Special Teams Key Victory Over Toronto
<strong>Toronto Marlies 1 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 4</strong>
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Behind a trio of goals from their AHL-leading power play unit, the Grand Rapids Griffins handed Eastern Conference titan Toronto just its second regulation loss of the season on Friday, a 4-1 decision that spoiled the Marlies’ first visit to Van Andel Arena in nearly four years.
After spotting Toronto an early goal, the Griffins scored on half of their six opportunities with the man-advantage to snap a four-game winless streak (0-3-1-0). Calvin Pickard finished with 23 saves against his former team and stopped the last 21 shots he faced to backstop Grand Rapids’ first victory over the Marlies since April 4, 2015, breaking a four-game series skid.
Toronto, which sustained its first regulation loss of the season on Wednesday at Rockford but now has just one victory in its last six outings (1-2-2-1) after winning six straight to open the season, will remain in town to play the back end of this two-game set. Game time on Saturday is 7 p.m.
Egor Korshkov needed no help to stake the Marlies (7-2-2-1) to the lead just 3:49 into the contest. The lanky Russian deflected a cross-ice pass at the point then raced up the ice, caught up to the puck at the top of the left circle and immediately fired a shot between Pickard and the far post.
The Griffins (6-5-1-1) took advantage of a friendly bounce during a power play 5:32 into the second period to pull even. With Grand Rapids buzzing in the Toronto zone, Matt Puempel blasted a one-timer from the right circle that sailed above the net. But the puck caromed off the glass and dropped into the blue paint near the left post, where Filip Zadina was waiting to whack it across the line before three Marlies converged on him.
The power play then provided the go-ahead marker for the Griffins at the 7:36 mark of the third. Taking a pass from newly assigned Joe Hicketts above the left circle, Puempel snapped a long-range shot past a screened Joseph Woll for the 2-1 Grand Rapids advantage.
With assists on both power play goals, Chris Terry seized the top spot in the league’s scoring race, as his 21 points (8-13—21) in 13 games trump the total of Chicago’s Lucas Elvenes (5-15—20 in 13 games).
Not finished, the Griffins scored their third power play goal of the evening 3:21 later to build a two-goal cushion. From the left circle, Joe Veleno fed a pass down low to Matthew Ford, who spun and tried to jam it past Woll before a crashing Givani Smith knocked the rebound home.
Dominic Turgeon added an empty-netter with 1:45 remaining.
Woll suffered his first regulation loss in five decisions this season, denying 24 of 27 shots. Grand Rapids’ penalty killers, who had surrendered seven goals in 11 opponent chances during a four-game stretch entering the week, stifled all six Toronto opportunities to make them a perfect 9-for-9 for the week.
Notes: Prior to the game, the Griffins held a moment of silence in memory of longtime video coach Bill LeRoy, who passed away one week ago…Puempel’s 15 points (7-8—15) tie him with former Griffins teammate Ben Street for third in the AHL…This marked the Marlies’ first visit to Van Andel Arena since taking a 4-2 win on Jan. 29, 2016. Each team won a Calder Cup in the interim, with Grand Rapids claiming its second championship in 2017 and Toronto following up with its first title in 2018, when Pickard was on its squad…The Griffins donned camouflage jerseys in honor of Military Appreciation Weekend. After being worn again for Saturday’s rematch with the Marlies, they will be auctioned off to fans.
Three Stars: 1. GR Puempel (power play goal, assist); 2. GR Terry (two assists); 3. GR Pickard (W, 23 saves)