GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Jimmy Howard made 32 saves in his return from the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, including 20 during a frantic third period, to help the Grand Rapids Griffins claim their third win in five nights, a nail-biting 5-4 triumph over the San Antonio Rampage at Van Andel Arena.
Combined with Manitoba’s 2-1 loss at Chicago this evening, the Griffins have moved within two points of the first-place Moose in the ever-tightening race for both North Division and overall AHL supremacy.
After playing three home games in less than 48 hours, Grand Rapids (34-14-6-5) will be on the road for 14 of its final 21 regular season contests, beginning with a three-in-three at Syracuse next Friday, Lake Erie on Saturday and Toronto on Sunday.
The Griffins grabbed the upper hand 11:06 into the contest when Aaron Gagnon crashed the net to clean up the rebound of Brett Peterson’s long-range shot from the left boards. But San Antonio answered during a scramble around the Grand Rapids goal less than three minutes later, with Chad Kolarik netting a tap-in from the right side at 14:00.
Presented with a 5-on-3 power play shortly thereafter, the Griffins capitalized to make it a 2-1 game, as Darren Haydar’s blast from the point clanged off the pipe on the way past Josh Tordjman at 15:40. Undeterred, the Rampage once again answered to knot the score at 2-2 with 1:57 remaining, with David Spina finishing off a shorthanded breakaway by backhanding the puck just inside the top right corner of Howard’s cage.
Mike Walsh staked the Griffins to their third lead at the 13:29 mark of the second period, skating across the slot and rifling the puck over Tordjman’s shoulder for the only goal of the frame.
The Rampage carried the play early in the third period, peppering Howard with nine unsuccessful tries in the first seven minutes, but the Griffins would build a three-goal cushion by scoring twice in a 25-second span. Jan Mursak finished off a 3-on-2 rush by taking a beautiful pass from Mattias Ritola and roofing a backhand at 6:56, before Logan Pyett’s shot from above the right circle slipped through a crowd at 7:21.
San Antonio (24-33-2-3) refused to go gently into that great night, however, cutting it to 5-3 when Sean Sullivan slammed home a backdoor pass from Kevin Porter with 10:48 remaining, then pulling within a goal on Jeff Hoggan’s shot from the left circle at 18:18 with Tordjman (25 saves) on the bench in favor of an extra attacker. But the weary Griffins withstood a final flurry to go home happy after their fourth game in five nights.
Three Stars: 1. GR Ritola (two assists); 2. GR Gagnon (goal, assist); 3. SAN Porter (three assists)