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SIMPLY STUNNING


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Garrett Stafford’s highlight-reel shootout goal in the fifth round gave the Grand Rapids Griffins their fourth win in their last five games both at home and overall, a thrilling 2-1 triumph over the Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday at Van Andel Arena.

With Hamilton netminder Yann Danis retreating into his net, Stafford faked to his backhand, pulled the puck far across to his right and slipped it across the line while being upended, igniting the Griffins’ faithful.

Grand Rapids (11-13-1-2), which rallied to win dramatically for the second straight Wednesday at home, will host a rematch with the Bulldogs (8-11-0-4) on Friday. Game time at Van Andel Arena is 7 p.m. The Griffins may be without top goal scorer Mark Hartigan, who was recalled by the Detroit Red Wings immediately after tonight’s game.

Despite out-gunning Hamilton by a 15-8 count in the opening period, the Griffins faced a 1-0 deficit at intermission. At the 11:25 mark, Jimmy Bonneau recorded his first AHL point by sending a wrist shot from the right wall just inside the far post. It would turn out to be the lone shot to elude Howard’s grasp during play, as he made 20 saves to improve to 4-1 during December.

The Griffins tied matters with a power play goal 9:05 into the second frame, as Jakub Kindl sped down the right side and took an innocent-looking shot from the top of the circle that caromed off Danis’ stick and into the net.

That 1-1 score remained throughout regulation and overtime, thanks to the stellar netminding of both Howard and Danis. Both teams had late power play chances, with Ryan Oulahen being sent off for tripping with 45 seconds left in the third and David Desharnais being whistled for holding 2:44 into overtime, but the goaltenders made some tremendous saves under duress to keep their teams alive.

Hamilton also benefited from some good fortune during the Griffins’ 4-on-3 advantage during the extra session, as Hartigan twice broke his stick on one-timers from the point during the same sequence, while Stafford rang a shot off the left post.

In the shootout, Matt D’Agostini and Corey Locke scored in the first two rounds for Hamilton before Howard slammed the door on the last three shooters, while Hartigan and Mark Cullen answered for Grand Rapids to set up Stafford’s redemption against Danis, who suffered the shootout loss despite 38 saves.

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