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YOUNG GUNS



WINNIPEG, Man. – A previous CCM Vector/AHL Player of the Week returned to the line-up after a two-game absence with a minor leg injury. The reigning Player of the Week brought a five-game point streak into Wednesday night’s game. Both Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula would figure greatly in the outcome of a wild 3-2 shootout win for the Grand Rapids Griffins over Manitoba at MTS Centre.

The Moose struck first late in the opening period, as defenseman Kevin Bieksa flew into the left side of the offensive zone and threaded a cross-ice pass to a streaking Mike Keane on the right wing. After a nifty inside-out move, Keane caught Griffins goaltender Jimmy Howard on a bad angle – throwing the puck into the crease, where it deflected off the skate of Rick Rypien for the score. Manitoba took a narrow 10-9 shot advantage and a 1-0 lead into the locker room.

With the call-up of defenseman Kyle Quincey to the Detroit Red Wings, Jon Insana broke back into the lineup and made an immediate impact. Cutting in from the left point, Insana took a pass from Jiri Hudler and managed a shot on Moose backstop Wade Flaherty while falling to the ice. Rookie winger Michael Hackert jarred the puck loose in the crease, where team captain Matt Ellis was able to coax in the equalizer at 7:02 of the second.

Manitoba controlled the action for the remainder of the second period, culminating in the go-ahead goal as center Nathan Smith sent a pass down low to winger Jason Jaffray, then retrieved the rebound from Jaffray’s shot for the put-away at 15:25. Bieksa was also credited with his second assist on the play, as the Moose mustered a 12-6 edge in shots in the frame to forge a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.

Just when it seemed the Griffins would not be able to solve a brilliant Flaherty, Tomas Kopecky keenly found Darryl Bootland all alone for a mini-break at the Manitoba blue line. Bootland launched a rocket from the top of the right circle that landed in the upper-left corner of the net to square the count at two-all with 4:12 left, ensuring a point in the standings.

Howard was equal to the task, matching Flaherty save for save over the frenetic final minutes of regulation. The rookie goalie rejected 30 of 32 shots en route to third-star honors and his fourth victory against two defeats.

Following a scintillating but indecisive overtime, the goaltending dual between Howard and Flaherty extended to a shootout. Hudler notched the first marker on the Griffins’ third attempt, Howard denied all four shots he faced, and Filppula victimized Flaherty for the second time in eight days with the shootout clincher for a 3-2 Grand Rapids victory.

The Griffins continued the greatest start in their ten-year history, improving to 15-3-0-1 with the win – as well as sweeping all four games in the road set on their way to nine victories in their last ten games. Grand Rapids extended their lead in the North Division to eight points over Manitoba with a game in hand, and the team returns home for a brief stop against the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday night. Start time is scheduled for 8 p.m.


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