GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Jiri Hudlers laser from the point at 2:21 of triple overtime ended the second-longest game in Griffins history and gave Grand Rapids a 6-5 win over the Toronto Marlies in Game 1 of the North Division Semifinals.
Hudler valiantly returned to action after suffering an 18-stitch cut to his nose on his first shift to tally his team-record fifth career overtime goal. The Griffins, who launched a franchise playoff-record 63 shots at Marlies netminder Jean-Sebastien Aubin, will host Game 2 on Saturday at Van Andel Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
After an uneventful early-going, the teams combined for three goals within a span of 27 seconds midway through the opening period. League MVP and top lamp-lighter Donald MacLean appropriately scored the Griffins first goal of the postseason during a power play at the 9:22 mark, skating to the top of the right circle and whipping a wrister stick-side past Aubin. The Marlies quickly tied things up when Aleksander Suglobovs deflection trickled just over the goal line at 9:37, but the Griffins reasserted their lead only 12 seconds later on a wraparound by Valtteri Filppula.
Aubin kept Toronto within one early in the second, robbing an uncovered Nate DiCasmirro with a beautiful glove save. Minutes later, at 5:30, the larceny paid dividends as John Pohl beat a screened Jimmy Howard with a shot from 45 feet to knot the score at two. The visitors then took their first lead at 10:22 of the period, when erstwhile Maple Leaf Ben Ondrus connected on a slap shot from the high slot, and Suglobovs tap-in of a Staffan Kronwall cross-crease pass during a power play at 18:13 gave Toronto a 4-2 advantage at the second break.
The Griffins, whose 10 regular season victories when trailing after two periods led the AHL, needed just 1:54 to slice the deficit in half, as Kent McDonell took a pass from Nick Martens, sped down the left side and solved Aubin with a backhand. The equalizer came at 10:59, when Terry Virtues shot from the right boards pinballed off Darryl Bootland and into the mesh.
MacLean ignited the crowd with his second of the game 31 seconds later, winning a faceoff in the left circle and ripping a shot past Aubin to put Grand Rapids back on top at 5-4. The Griffins, who at one point had built an 11-0 advantage in shots for the period, surrendered a power play goal to Jay Williams on just the Marlies second attempt of the frame at 14:09.
The next 48:12 of game action was scoreless, despite numerous scoring chances and several power play opportunities for each team during the first two overtime sessions. Ondrus holding penalty at 1:43 of the third overtime gave the Griffins the last of 10 advantages they needed to wrap-up the victory.
Howard acquitted himself well in his first pro playoff appearance by making 42 stops, including 17 in the three overtime periods. Aubin finished with a whopping 57 saves.
The game, the 60th in Griffins postseason history, was the first played without defenseman Travis Richards in uniform. The only longer contest was the infamous Hugo Boisvert game on May 3, 2001 in Game 1 of the IHL Eastern Conference Finals versus Orlando, which ended at 11:12 of the third overtime.