GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
In a fight between North Division heavyweights that required a team-record 14 shootout rounds to decide, the Grand Rapids Griffins prevailed for a 3-2 victory over the Manitoba Moose on Wednesday at Van Andel Arena. Eric Manlow ended the longest shootout in the AHL this season and also scored during regulation to lift Grand Rapids (47-16-1-4) to its fifth straight triumph and its eighth win in the last nine games.
The Griffins, now 31 games over 0.500 for the first time since April 2001, increased their division leads over both Manitoba (37-19-6-4) and Syracuse to 15 points and pushed their league-leading point total to 99. Theyll take aim at their fourth 100-point campaign in 10 seasons this Friday, when they host the Cleveland Barons at 7 p.m.
Jimmy Howard earned first star honors with a brilliant performance between the Griffins pipes. He stopped 32-of-34 shots during play and 11-of-14 attempts in the shootout, helping Grand Rapids earn points for the 17th time in his last 18 decisions (15-1-1-1) and improving his personal record to 19-4-2.
Manitoba used a 5-on-3 power play to take a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period. Howard made the initial save of a Jesse Schultz shot, but Jason King collected the rebound and scored from the right side at the 10:06 mark.
The score remained 1-0 deep into the second period, until the Griffins tallied their AHL-high 104th power play goal of the season. From the right circle, Jiri Hudler feathered a pass into the slot to Manlow, who beat his man to redirect the puck past Wade Flaherty at 15:41. Donald MacLean also earned an assist on the play to extend his point streak to 10 games and factor on the scoresheet for the 29th time in Grand Rapids last 30 games.
A crucial exchange midway through the third saw the Griffins emerge with a 2-1 advantage. After Howard denied a shorthanded breakaway chance by Mike Brown eight minutes in, Matt Ellis finished off a flurry around the Moose cage at 9:55. MacLean took a feed from Nate DiCasmirro and was stopped by Flaherty from point-blank range, but Ellis crashed the crease to notch his 17th of the campaign. Grand Rapids first lead of the night lasted only 2:07, however, as Schultz finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play by blasting a shot past Howard from the right hashmarks.
Manitoba survived a scare 90 seconds into overtime, when Bryan Helmer hit the left post during a power play. The game progressed to the shootout, with the teams trading goals in the first (Ryan Bayda and Tomas Kopecky), seventh (Schultz and Valtteri Filppula) and eighth (Lee Goren and Kopecky) rounds before Manlows ended matters. Four of the six meetings between the Griffins and Moose this season have required a shootout, with Grand Rapids claiming three victories.