GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
In a game that carried great importance for the visitors and little for the home team, the Milwaukee Admirals rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday at Van Andel Arena, in the regular season finale for both clubs.
The Griffins 10th sellout crowd of the season their most since the 1998-99 campaign watched the Admirals reduce their magic number for claiming the West Division title to a single point over Houston. Despite seeing their nine-game home winning streak fall one shy of the franchise record, the AHL regular season-champion Griffins completed the year with a record 55 wins (55-20-1-4) and 115 points.
Grand Rapids will begin its quest for the Calder Cup against the Toronto Marlies in the best-of-seven North Division Semifinals. Games 1 and 2 are set for Van Andel Arena this Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22 at 7 p.m. each night.
Eric Manlow gave the Griffins the lead during a power play just 3:01 into the contest, blasting a shot from the top of the right circle that sailed past a screened Brian Finley for his 25th goal and 15th power play marker of the season. The man-advantage again paid dividends exactly three minutes later, when Darryl Bootland received a cross-crease pass from Tomas Kopecky and beat Finley from the left side.
It took Milwaukee just two minutes to answer. Jimmy Howard denied Rich Peverly as he attempted to stuff the puck inside the left post, but it somehow slid sideways beneath the netminder and across the goal line at 8:01. The Admirals then had two prime chances to tie the score a bankhander by Cal OReilly toward an open net and a wrister by Simon Gamache both hit iron before Gamache knotted things by slamming home a rebound during a power play at 11:24.
The action settled down over the next period until Grand Rapids reasserted its lead on its third power play goal of the night at 8:02 of the second. Brett Lebdas slapper from above the right circle clanged off the crossbar but the puck dropped behind Finley, allowing an opportunistic Kent McDonell to rush in and tap it into the unguarded cage. The power play goal was the 120th for the Griffins this season, four shy of the AHL single-season record and the most in the league in 12 years (1993-94 St. Johns, 120).
The Admirals once again responded, however, as former Griffin Sheldon Brookbanks goal from the left circle at 17:55 stood despite Grand Rapids arguments that Howard was interfered with. Milwaukee then took its first lead of the night during a power play at the 11:33 mark of the third, with Darren Haydar converting a rebound during a wild flurry around the Griffins net. Haydar potted his second of the night into an empty net with 1:08 remaining for the final margin.
AHL most valuable player Donald MacLean, who missed his second straight game tonight while playing his third consecutive contest with the Red Wings, now has a one-goal lead in the race for the Willie Marshall Award for the leagues top goal scorer. Binghamtons Denis Hamel, whose team will host Albany on Sunday in its final game, scored tonight against Hershey to pull within 56-55.
View this games official box score at griffinshockey.com.