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GRIFFINS END SEASON WHILE MAKING AHL HISTORY

CINCINNATI – It’s been 56 years since an AHL team earned as many points as the 2004-05 Grand Rapids Griffins did without qualifying for the playoffs. Regardless, they drew their season to a close on Sunday with a 3-2 road loss to the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.

The Ducks (44-31-1-4, 93 pts.) claimed third place with the win and will move on to face the defending Calder Cup champion Milwaukee Admirals in the West Division Semifinals, while the Griffins (41-35-2-2, 86 pts.) finished fifth and joined the 1948-49 Pittsburgh Hornets (88 pts.) as the only teams in league history to earn as many as 86 points and miss out on the postseason. In addition, the Griffins became the only team in AHL history to win 40 games and not qualify for the playoffs.

Alexei Smirnov gave the Ducks the lead midway through the opening period. Sneaking behind the Griffins’ defense during a delayed penalty, he broke in alone and beat Drew MacIntyre glove-side with a backhand at 11:28.

Jeff Panzer tied it for the Griffins at the 17:14 mark, taking a feed from Brent Kelly and deflecting a shot off the inside of the left post from low in the right circle.

The same scenario played out in the middle period, with Cincinnati moving on top only to see Grand Rapids battle back with the equalizer. Off a faceoff in the Griffins’ zone, Igor Pohanka scored from the slot at 2:36 to give the Ducks a 2-1 advantage. But at the 10:07 mark, Eric Himelfarb finished off a beautiful passing sequence with Darryl Bootland, Peter Vandermeer and Brett Lebda by tucking a shot inside Ilya Bryzgalov’s right post.

Looking to avoid division champion Chicago in the first round, the Ducks did just that by netting the game winner early in the third period. Former Ferris State star Chris Kunitz tipped Kurtis Foster’s one-timer from the point past MacIntyre at 5:40, and Cincinnati held on the rest of the way. Bryzgalov notched the win with 37 saves, while MacIntyre finished with 27 while making his fourth appearance in six days.

Despite the loss, the Griffins still tied for second in the AHL with 22 road wins (22-17-0-1) this season. Grand Rapids finished 17-13-1-1 (0.563) since Greg Ireland was named head coach on Feb. 10, including a 16-10-1-1 record (0.607) since Feb. 25 and a 12-7-0-1 mark (0.625) since March 11.

By playing in their 80th games of the season today, defensemen Bryan Helmer and Brett Lebda became the 11th and 12th players in franchise history to appear in every Griffins game during a single season.


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