GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
On the strength of Matt Ellis unprecedented two-goal, four-point performance, the Grand Rapids Griffins demolished the Hamilton Bulldogs by a 7-2 count on Friday at Van Andel Arena, setting a season-high for goals and earning their sixth straight victory.
Manny Legace, on a one-game conditioning assignment from the Detroit Red Wings, made 20 saves and even earned an assist in his Grand Rapids debut, appearing unconstrained by the left knee sprain he suffered in Anaheim on Nov. 25. The first-place Griffins (24-10-0-2), who increased their North Division lead to five points over idle Manitoba, will ring out 2005 by hosting the Chicago Wolves in their annual New Years Eve contest at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Darryl Bootland, who twice left Wednesdays game against Omaha after sustaining ferocious hits, showed no ill effects as he set up the games first goal with a brilliant play 5:40 into the opening period. Splitting the Hamilton defense, he sped down the slot and drew goalie Jeff Deslauriers to the left post, then sent a pass back across the crease to a wide-open Valtteri Filppula for an easy tap-in.
Bootland made it a 2-0 game with his own goal at 1:26 of the second. From behind the Hamilton net, Jiri Hudler sent a pass out front to the rugged winger, who snapped a shot below the cross bar from the bottom of the right circle. Midway through the frame, the Bulldogs (13-22-0-2) got on the board during a power play thanks to a fine effort by Michael Lambert. He skated out of the right corner with the puck and fired a wrister top-shelf over Legaces glove at 11:05.
Soon after, the Griffins answered with a pair of goals to take a 4-1 lead to the locker room. During an odd-man rush, Eric Himelfarb took a centering pass from Kent McDonell, controlled the bouncing puck and flipped a shot over a sprawled Deslauriers from the left side at 16:13. Just 1:27 later, Hudler parked on the doorstep and converted an Ellis pass from the end boards. The goal marked the 47th of Hudlers Griffins career, tying him with Kevin Miller for tenth place all time.
Fortunate bounces enabled the teams to trade goals early in the third period. Sixty-four seconds in, Francis Lemieux wrapped around the net and whipped the puck into the slot, where it deflected off a Griffins skate and across the line. Ellis then took advantage of an awkward carom off the glass to score into a vacated cage at 3:53.
Only 19 ticks later, Ellis won a battle for the puck in the right corner and found Donald MacLean in the slot. MacLean picked up his team-high 19th goal of the season, finding the back of the net for the fourth straight contest. Ellis then capped off his incredible night by scoring from the right circle on the power play with 2:49 left, matching his career-high for points set with ECHL Toledo in 2002-03 and doubling his previous high as a Griffin.