GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Grand Rapids fifth annual matinee game turned into an afternoon delight for the Griffins on Tuesday, as they claimed a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout win over the Manitoba Moose to seize sole possession of first place in the North Division. The two teams had entered play tied atop the standings at 19 points.
The Griffins (10-3-0-1) rallied with third-period goals by Valtteri Filppula and Bryan Helmer to erase a 4-2 deficit, before Jiri Hudler and Filppula scored in the final two shootout rounds to secure the victory. Grand Rapids will look to maintain its lofty perch this Friday when the Cleveland Barons pay a 7 p.m. visit to Van Andel Arena.
Nate DiCasmirro got things going for the Griffins with the fastest goal to start a game in franchise history, collecting a Tomas Kopecky rebound and slipping a shot past a defenseless Wade Flaherty just 13 seconds into the contest.
It took the Moose a mere 35 seconds to respond, as Kevin Bieksa sent Manitobas first shot from the top of the right circle past Joey MacDonald, who made his season debut for Grand Rapids following off-season back surgery. The deadlock lasted only until the 3:59 mark, when the Griffins potent power play connected for the eleventh straight game, extending a team record. Hudler took a shot from the right boards that Eric Manlow redirected from the doorstep, enabling Hudler to push his personal-best and AHL-high scoring streak to 14 games.
Manitoba then took a commanding lead with three unanswered goals, first netting the equalizer on Jesse Schultzs power play goal from the slot just 8.8 ticks before the intermission. A 5-on-3 midway through the second period provided the visitors with their first lead, as Bieksa blistered a shot from 40 feet for his second of the afternoon at 10:38. The Moose (9-5-1-1) then took advantage of a turnover to pot Jozef Balejs goal from point-blank range at 14:31, giving them a 4-2 lead.
The Griffins, who have outscored their opposition 23-8 in the third period this season, pulled within one thanks to an odd-man break 10:26 into the final frame. During a 3-on-2 rush, Flaherty stopped a Ryan Oulahen blast from the left circle but the rebound tricked beyond his grasp, allowing Filppula to pounce for his fifth goal of the season. With time running down, a Bryan Helmer rocket from the point slipped through Flaherty at the 18:20 mark to knot the score and ignite the student-filled crowd of 6,683. MacDonald then made a brilliant glove save on Josh Green with 12.3 seconds left to force overtime.
In the shootout, Kopeckys first-round tally was answered by Green and Alexandre Burrows, before Hudler and Filppula scored to complete the comeback for the Griffins, who have rallied in each of their last five wins. MacDonald made 18 saves for the victory, as Grand Rapids finished the day with a whopping 54-22 shot margin.