GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – It may have been two days late, but the Grand Rapids Griffins finally had occasion to give thanks on Saturday, earning their first home victory of the season in 4-1 fashion over the Iowa Stars at Van Andel Arena.
Jimmy Howard made 30 saves and Mark Cullen and Carl Corazzini led a quartet of Griffins that notched two points apiece, as Grand Rapids finished its weekend set against Iowa with three of a possible four points. The Griffins (6-10-0-2), who snapped their 0-7-0-1 home start along with an overall streak of 0-8-0-2, will play their fourth game in five nights on Sunday, when they visit the Rockford IceHogs for a 5:05 p.m. EST start at the Rockford MetroCentre.
For the second straight night, the Griffins drew first blood against the Stars (9-10-1-0) in the opening period. Skating down the right side, Jamie Tardif made a great move around a defender and darted to the high slot, flipping a puck toward the net that was redirected by Cullen past Philippe Sauve at the 9:59 mark.
Cullen’s goal unleashed a torrent of stuffed animals that rained down from the stands as part of the team’s eighth annual Teddy Bear Toss. An estimated 975 toys were collected and donated to Hug-A-Bears of Kent County, which distributes the toys through many local agencies to provide comfort to young victims of fires, accidents, illness and crimes.
Grand Rapids soon after built its first three-goal lead on home ice this season – and its first in any game in exactly a month – by scoring two goals just 32 seconds apart. Mattias Ritola recorded his first North American goal at the 13:56 mark, taking a pass from Cullen out of the left corner, stopping the puck with his skate and blowing a shot behind Sauve from below the hashmarks. Then at 14:28, Corazzini won a race to a loose puck inside the Iowa blue line to create a 2-on-1, sending a feed from the right half-wall over to Mark Hartigan, who deked before sliding a backhand across the line.
Hartigan’s team-leading 10th goal of the season prompted Iowa to pull Sauve in favor of Tobias Stephan, who made 38 saves on Friday to backstop the Stars to their 3-2 shootout win. Sauve finished with just five saves on the night, while Stephan went on to stop 11 shots in relief.
Just 1:29 into the second period, the Stars got on the board when Vojtech Polak bounced a shot off Howard from the right goal line, but the Griffins needed less than five minutes to push their lead back to three with a power play goal. Corazzini carried the puck through the right circle, worked his way to the slot and beat Stephan with a backhand through traffic at 6:13, giving him four points against Iowa over the last two nights.
Howard shut out the Stars the rest of the way, helping Grand Rapids to its largest margin of victory this season.