GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Matt Ellis scored shorthanded 12:39 into overtime to lift the Grand Rapids Griffins a 2-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose on Monday at Van Andel Arena.
With Grand Rapids killing its second penalty of the extra session, Ellis carried the puck up the ice, crossed the Manitoba blue line and wristed an innocent-looking shot from 55 feet that slipped through Drew MacIntyre, giving the Griffins a 2-1 lead in their North Division Semifinal series.
The Griffins, who also won Game 3 of the 2006 division finals against the Moose in overtime, will look to build upon their advantage when they host Manitoba for Game 4 on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Following a scoreless opening period, the teams traded goals early in the second. Former Griffin Brendan Brooks gained a measure of revenge against his old mates just 37 seconds in, retrieving a puck that teammate Mike Brown had lost control of and sending a shot past Jimmy Howard’s blocker from the bottom of the left circle. It would be the only goal allowed by Howard, who lowered his playoff goals against average to 0.94 by making 24 saves on the night.
Matt Hussey, a healthy scratch in Game 2, made his return felt by netting the equalizer for Grand Rapids at the 3:35 mark. Speeding down the left side, he maneuvered around a Moose defender, bore down on the goal and slipped a shot off MacIntyre’s right pad and across the line.
The teams entered the final 20 minutes tied 1-1, making it the eighth of 11 meetings this season in which the game-winning goal would be scored during the third period or later. Just 40 seconds into the final frame, Howard preserved the deadlock by making a tremendous glove save on a breakaway attempt by Moose sniper Lee Goren, and he followed up by denying a Marc Chouinard redirection with 13 minutes left.
The two goalies held strong for the remainder of regulation, marking the first playoff overtime contest for either team since their Game 3 meeting on May 9, 2006, which the Griffins won by a 5-4 margin at the MTS Centre.
Grand Rapids began the extra session with 1:19 of power play time, courtesy of a high-sticking call on Manitoba’s Alexandre Bolduc late in the third period, but could not capitalize on the opportunity. Howard made another spectacular stop on a tricky redirection three and a half minutes in to keep the Griffins alive, as the Moose had several chances around the home team’s cage in the early going.
Manitoba received its own advantage nearing the 10-minute mark, but the Griffins twice came close to ending matters. MacIntyre struggled to control Derek Meech’s shorthanded blast from the left boards before turning away a penalty shot awarded to Eric Himelfarb at 11:07. The Moose went back on the power play at 12:18, but Ellis gave the Griffins their fourth straight overtime playoff win 21 seconds later.
For Ellis, the Griffins’ record holder for shorthanded goals in a season (5, 2006-07) and a career (12), the goal was his second overtime tally in a postseason game. He scored the series-clinching goal against Toronto in Game 5 of the 2006 North Division Semifinals, a 2-1 double-overtime victory at the Ricoh Coliseum.