GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In a crucial four-point game involving their primary competitor for a playoff spot, the Grand Rapids Griffins rallied for a 5-3 win over the Peoria Riverman on Tuesday at Van Andel Arena.
The Griffins (31-23-5-2) won for the 11th time in their last 13 home games and tied their season high at eight games over 0.500, while snapping the Rivermen’s seven-game point streak. More importantly, they moved a point ahead of Peoria (31-21-2-4) and three points ahead of Iowa in the three-way race for the last two playoff berths in the Western Conference.
Next up for Grand Rapids is the AHL’s hottest team, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, who will host the Griffins for a pair on Friday and Saturday. The Knights carry a six-game winning streak into Wednesday’s home game versus Iowa.
An eventful first period saw the Griffins jump out to the early lead on a goal by Jeff Campbell, who took a pass from Jamie Tardif in the slot, drew Chris Beckford-Tseu out of the net and popped a shot home at the 5:03 mark. Then Grand Rapids, which had seen opponents take 10 straight penalty shots since its last attempt by Kevin Miller on March 17, 2004 versus Toronto, was awarded a freebie midway through the period. But Kip Miller’s shot was unsuccessful, making the Griffins scoreless in their last six penalty shots and dropping them to just 3-for-10 all time.
A pair of power play goals by Trent Whitfield 1:20 apart gave the visitors the lead. During a two-man advantage at 13:50, former Griffin Jamie Rivers broke his stick while attempting a slap shot from the point, but the errant puck found Whitfield on the right side for an easy goal. Eighty seconds later, he deflected a Rivers blast high into Stefan Liv’s net, putting the Rivermen ahead 2-1 at the break.
The Griffins stormed back with three unanswered goals to open the second period, tying the game on Dan Smith’s first goal of the year – and his first since March 25, 2005 – at 5:28. Ryan Oulahen’s quick shot from the bottom of the left circle somehow slipped through Beckford-Tseu at 15:45, and Kip Miller lifted a backhand over the sprawled netminder from the right side 1:09 later to give the Griffins a 4-2 lead. However, the Rivermen closed the gap to a single goal with just eight seconds remaining in the frame, as Charles Linglet finished off a shorthanded breakaway by glancing a shot off Liv’s left post and over the goal line.
Miller got the only goal of the third period into an empty net with 33 seconds left, capping off his three-point night, but Smith earned first star honors thanks to his goal and a plus-four rating on the night. Liv improved to 7-1-1-0 in his last nine games thanks to 24 saves, while Beckford-Tseu made 22 stops in the loss.