01/27/2006 9:39 PM
The action was fast-paced and contentious from the start, as the Grand Rapids Griffins exploded for three first period goals on their way to a 3-2 victory over the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights at the Civic Auditorium Friday.
Grand Rapids struck first and struck hard, staking out to a 1-0 lead at 3:40 of the first on a beautiful feed from Donald MacLean on the left side into the slot, where Jiri Hudler lifted a nifty shot top shelf for the games opening score. Hudler continued his wizardry moments later with a sleek carry-in at the Omaha blue line, firing a shot past Knights goaltender Brent Krahn from the top of the right circle for his second goal of the night and 25th of the season to push the Griffins edge to 2-0.
Team captain Matt Ellis inflicted some collateral damage on a subsequent delayed penalty call against the Knights, tipping a Bryan Helmer bomb from the right point for a dizzying 3-0 Griffins advantage just 9:16 into the contest.
Omaha countered with an intense shift of constant pressure on Grand Rapids netminder Joey MacDonald, resulting in a hard-earned goal by Chris Neiszner to whittle the Knights deficit down to 3-1 at 10:48 of the first.
The opening period also featured a pair of pugilistic bouts, with Darryl Bootland going toe-to-toe with Omaha left-winger Brandon Prust and defenseman Greg Amadio getting the best of Knights center Warren Peters. Bootland collected seven penalty minutes on the night, placing him just three PIM shy of the all-time team mark of 781 held by Bruce Ramsay.
A disputed goal call at 12:29 of the second period brought the Knights within a single strike at 3-2, as a trickling puck off the stick of Lynn Loyns was ruled to have crossed the goal line before Derek Meech was able to clear it from the crease.
The Griffins fended off a furious third period attack by the Knights, and their penalty kill proved to be crucial. Despite being out-shot 11-2 in the final frame, MacDonalds fantastic play in goal helped kill off successive minor penalties against Eric Himelfarb and Meech including 19 seconds of 5-on-3 time for Omaha. Grand Rapids was awarded just one power play opportunity on the night, a season-low, as MacDonald stopped an impressive 33 of 35 shots to earn his tenth win.
The Griffins are a blistering 14-2-1-0 in their last 17 games, bolstering their foothold on first place in the North Division by a four-point margin over the Manitoba Moose with a sparkling 32-12-1-2 record. Grand Rapids next travels to Peoria Saturday night for the second of three games in three nights on the road, where they will face the Rivermen at 9 p.m. ET.