GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins continued their late-season surge in an entertaining, hard-hitting affair at Van Andel Arena on Friday, defeating the Milwaukee Admirals 6-3 before a near-capacity crowd to sweep the home-and-home set against their long-time rivals.
Jamie Tardif notched a pair of goals and Thomas McCollum made 24 saves to record his first victory since Dec. 13, as the Griffins (31-35-3-3) improved to 6-1-1-1 in their last nine contests and moved within eight points of idle Manitoba in the race for the North Division’s fourth and final playoff spot, with eight games remaining for both clubs.
Grand Rapids will continue its three-game home stand on Saturday at 7 p.m., looking for its fifth consecutive victory against the Texas Stars.
Milwaukee (38-28-1-6) struck for the only goal of the opening period just 2:41 in, as Marty Murray gobbled up a rebound on the doorstep during a rush and quickly scooped a backhand past McCollum’s blocker.
The Griffins tied it at 7:29 of the second on Jordan Owens’ first goal as a Griffin. Tardif skated the puck up the left side and dropped a pass above the circle for Owens, who wound up for a slap shot that pinballed off two Admirals defenders and slipped past Mark Dekanich. Owens would add two assists in the third to finish with three points on the night.
Early in the third, former Admiral John Vigilante forced a misplay by Dekanich behind the Milwaukee net and flipped the puck out to Tardif, who popped a shot into the gaping cage from the left side at 3:08 to put the Griffins ahead.
After Brad May crashed the crease to score during a power play at 7:46, giving Grand Rapids a 3-1 lead, he was immediately hit from behind, sparking a goal-mouth melee that brought the crowd of 10,444 to its feet.
Milwaukee somehow emerged from the scrum with a power play, which became 1:08 of a two-man advantage when another Griffin was sent to the box. The Admirals capitalized with 13 seconds remaining in the first penalty, when Alexander Sulzer solved McCollum from the bottom of the right circle at the 9:34 mark.
Tardif responded for the Griffins with his second goal of the game with 5:31 remaining, finishing off a 2-on-1 by redirecting Vigilante’s feed inside the right post. Mike Santorelli got it back exactly 1:30 later, scoring on a wrist shot to pull the visitors within one at 4-3, but Jan Mursak converted a partial breakaway at 17:34 and Tomas Tatar scored into an empty net with 56 seconds left.
The Griffins’ five goals during the third tied their season high for a single period and were their most in a home stanza since they scored five times in the third period of an 8-4 win over Rochester on Jan. 31, 2009.
Dekanich turned aside 21 in the losing effort.
Three Stars: 1. GR Tardif (two goals, assist); 2. GR Vigilante (two assists); 3. MIL Santorelli (goal, assist)