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BACK WHERE WE BELONG


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins rode a five-goal third period to a wild 8-4 win over the Rochester Americans on Saturday at Van Andel Arena, as they reclaimed first place in the North Division after their largest offensive output at home in nearly seven years.

Six different Griffins enjoyed multi-point nights, highlighted by Francis Lemieux’s second hat trick in two months and Evan McGrath’s four-assist evening that set the team’s season high for points in a game. In addition, Ryan Oulahen and Sergei Kolosov each lit the lamp twice to give both of them three goals during the two-game set against the Amerks.

The Griffins (29-9-6-4), who now lead Manitoba by one point in the standings with a game still in hand, completed their five-game homestand with a 4-0-0-1 mark and improved to 16-2-3-1 in their last 22 games overall. Now 18-3-3-4 at Van Andel Arena, they’ll play 20 of their final 32 regular season games on the road, beginning with a visit to the Quad City Flames at 8:05 p.m. on Wednesday.

Grand Rapids grabbed three different one-goal leads over the game’s first two periods, only to see Rochester answer on each occasion. Oulahen’s tap-in against Mike Brodeur – the hero of the Americans’ 3-2 shootout win on Friday – just 2:58 into the contest was answered by Karl Stewart’s pinball tally against Daniel Larsson at 6:13 of the first.

Brodeur was relieved by Chris Beckford-Tseu at the start of the second frame due to a groin injury, and the understudy was quickly welcomed by a Lemieux goal from along the left goal line at 2:37. After Drew Larman sailed a puck into the top corner of Larsson’s cage at 7:36, Darren Helm’s power play goal on a slap shot below the left circle with 1:49 remaining in the period gave Grand Rapids a tenuous 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes.

Ross Carlson surprised Larsson with a rocket from the right side just 1:09 into the third period, knotting the score but apparently waking up the home squad. Oulahen’s second goal at 3:42 and Lemieux’s second at 10:24 sent the Griffins into the final minutes with a 5-3 lead and set the stage for a final flurry.

Kolosov’s first goal at 17:12, from nearly the same spot as his first AHL goal on Friday, was followed by Michal Repik’s power play marker at 18:14. The Griffins added a pair of goals in the final 27 seconds, including Lemieux’s third into an empty net at 19:33 and Kolosov’s second with only six ticks remaining, to finish off a strange four-goal victory.

The eight goals were the most scored by Grand Rapids since a 9-2 win at Cleveland on Feb. 16, 2006, and its most at Van Andel Arena since a 9-1 mauling of Utah on Feb. 24, 2002. Lemieux became the first Griffin to notch two hat tricks in one season since Donald MacLean tallied five during his AHL MVP campaign of 2005-06, and linemate Francis Pare chipped in three assists to become just the 12th rookie in franchise history to reach 30 points (15-15—30).

Larsson made 30 saves to improve to 14-3-1 in his last 20 games. Beckford-Tseu stopped 24-of-30 in the loss, while Brodeur denied 7-of-8 in the no-decision.

Three Stars: 1. GR Lemieux (hat trick); 2. GR Oulahen (two goals); 3. Helm (goal, two assists)
 

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