Comets beat Griffins 4-1 and take 2-1 series lead
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Sven Baertschi's natural hat trick propelled Utica to a 4-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday at Van Andel Arena, giving the Comets a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
Comets netminder Jacob Markstrom made 40 saves to improve his record following a loss this postseason to 6-0, as Utica reclaimed home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series.
The Griffins, who hadn't played at home since Game 2 of the conference semis against Rockford 20 days ago, will have an immediate chance at redemption when they host Game 4 on Friday at 7 p.m. The ticket presale for the game is already over 7,000, ensuring that it will have the largest attendance of any conference finals game in franchise history. Sunday's Game 5 will also take place in Grand Rapids, at 5 p.m.
Following a scoreless opening frame, Baertschi notched just the fifth playoff hat trick ever allowed by the Griffins and the first in more than eight years. The winger first got ahead of the defense and snapped a shot through Tom McCollum's five hole from the slot at 3:17, then blasted home a one-timer from the right circle during a power play at 9:35.
Baertschi recorded his third goal in a span of 8:36 by tapping a rebound past McCollum at 11:53, becoming the first opposing player to score three times in a postseason contest since Manitoba's Jason Jaffray (May 1, 2007) and just the second ever to accomplish the feat at Van Andel Arena, joining Chicago's Steve Maltais (April 15, 2002). It also marked his fourth consecutive series goal, dating to the final tally of Grand Rapids' 4-2 win in Utica on Monday.
Marek Tvrdon responded for the Griffins during a power play 4:19 into the third period, taking a knuckling slap shot from above the right circle that Markstrom misplayed off his blocker, but Cory Conacher got it back and provided the final margin by finishing off a 2-on-1 break with 4:37 remaining. McCollum finished with 21 saves.
Notes: The Griffins are 1-4 all time and 1-1 under coach Jeff Blashill when trailing 1-2 in a best-of-seven series, with the victory coming two years ago in the conference finals against Oklahoma City....Grand Rapids set a franchise playoff record for shots in a period with 22 during the third, eclipsing the mark of 21 set twice before.
Three Stars: 1. UTI Baertschi (hat trick); 2. UTI Markstrom (W, 40 saves); 3. GR Tvrdon (power play goal)
The Griffins played a pretty unimpressive game with far too many defensive lapses leading to odd man rushes, and allowing the Comets to keep them from getting many scoring chances from dangerous areas. The Griffins put a total of 41 shots on Markstrom, but 22 of them came in the 3rd period when they were already in a 3-0 deficit and many of those 41 shots were easy for Markstrom to stop, coming from too far away or shots going right into his body or pads. The Griffins defense didn't play very well, their forwards didn't play very well, and Tom McCollum continues to make me angry that he's the starter. The entire team needs to play well tonight and avoid going down 3-1 in the series. Despite the lackluster play and disappointing end result, there were some noteworthy things that happened.
Here are videos of some of them.
Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and Teemu Pulkkinen create great offensive zone pressure.
Teemu Pulkkinen hit into the Griffins bench by Jake Vertanen, they both get roughing penalties.
Nick Jensen lays a big clean hit on Cory Conacher, Kronwall style (butt-first).
Xavier Ouellet, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Teemu Pulkkinen create pressure and physicality that leads to a Comets turnover and drawn penalty that leads to...
A Marek Tvrdon power play goal from Jeff Hoggan and Dylan Larkin.
Game 4 is Friday night in Grand Rapids.