GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
In a playoff-like atmosphere before a crowd of 9,152 at Van Andel Arena on Friday, the Griffins jumped out to a 4-1 lead before withstanding a furious rally to claim a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and keep their hopes alive for a spot in the 2005 Calder Cup Playoffs.
With two games remaining, the fifth-place Griffins (41-33-2-2) trail the Ducks by just three points in the race for the West Divisions final playoff berth. Grand Rapids will host San Antonio in its home finale on Saturday, before traveling to Cincinnati on Sunday for what could be a winner-take-all showdown with the Ducks.
Houston clinched a playoff spot tonight with its 5-2 win over Chicago. Either of two scenarios on Saturday - a Griffins win coupled with a Ducks loss of any kind to Milwaukee, or a Griffins OTL/SOL coupled with a Ducks regulation loss - would set up Sundays dramatic season finale.
Cincinnati goalie Frederic Cassivi carried a three-game shutout streak and a scoreless run of 183:48 into the contest, but it took the Griffins Brent Kelly just 3:11 to light his lamp, giving Kelly three goals in four games since his return to the club. The Ducks evened the score midway through the period, as Pierre Parenteau feathered a pass to the top of the crease and a wide-open Kurtis Foster, who redirected the puck past a blameless Drew MacIntyre at the 10:25 mark.
Some crafty stickwork by three of Grand Rapids most skilled players resulted in a 2-1 lead during a 4-on-4 situation late in the frame. From the right boards, Eric Manlow fought through a defender to get a pass to Niklas Kronwall, who with Kip Miller found themselves alone in front of Cassivi. From the right side, Kronwall fed the puck across the slot to Miller, who sent it back to Kronwall for an easy tap-in at 14:48.
The Griffins, who outshot the Ducks by a 19-5 margin during a dominant opening period, made it 3-1 early in the second. Manlow collected the puck behind the net and, facing the end boards, backhanded a pass out front to a driving Jiri Hudler, who blistered a shot into the upper right corner at 5:07. Grand Rapids added to its cushion just 25 seconds into the final period, when Eric Himelfarb broke in alone during a power play and scooped a backhand over Cassivi.
That margin didnt last long. Five seconds into a Grand Rapids penalty, Foster blasted a cannon from the left point that cleanly hit the back of MacIntyres net at 3:58. The revived Ducks (42-31-1-4) then pulled to within one at 7:11. Following a scrum in front of the Griffins net, Sheldon Brookbank picked up a loose puck, slid behind the net and got it out to Joffrey Lupul, who snuck a laser into the near corner of the goal from the right circle.
Cincy continued to apply pressure, eventually outshooting Grand Rapids 30-28 for the game, but the Griffins held firm, assisted by an ill-advised cross-checking penalty on Cincinnatis Casey Hankinson with 1:40 remaining.
MacIntyre, who has made consecutive appearances for the first time since Jan. 9-14 in place of an injured Joey MacDonald, finished with 27 stops, while Cassivi made 24 saves.