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JOY TO THE WORLD

Cleveland Monsters 2 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 5

Dec. 29, 2017

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
– This season’s first meeting between the last two Calder Cup champions went the way of the 2017 victors on Friday, as the Grand Rapids Griffins dealt the Cleveland Monsters their ninth straight road defeat in a 5-2 decision at Van Andel Arena.

Eric Tangradi led the way with two goals and an assist for a Griffins squad (12-15-1-4) that has earned five of six points over the last week and has just two regulation losses in its last seven outings. Matt Puempel added a goal and an assist in his first game back since missing seven in a row due to injury.

These teams will stage a rematch at 7 p.m. Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena before the Griffins finish up a three-in-three weekend by hosting the Milwaukee Admirals for their 21st annual New Year’s Eve celebration on Sunday at 6 p.m.

The Monsters’ 30th-ranked offense – averaging a league-worst 2.21 goals per game – briefly awoke from its long winter’s nap to score just 22 seconds into the contest. Zac Dalpe scooped a sharp-angle shot on net from the left side that Jared Coreau easily stopped, but Alex Broadhurst was first to the rebound at the bottom of the circle and whipped a shot off the far post and in.

Cleveland (9-14-3-2) victimized Coreau on another rebound at the 9:08 mark. Miles Koules’ try from the right side was steered into the left circle to Carter Camper, who threaded a shot over Coreau’s right shoulder into the near corner of the cage.

Dylan McIlrath cut the Griffins’ deficit in half with his third goal of the season at 14:07, as his shot from the right point pinballed off traffic in front of Matiss Kivlenieks and trickled over the line.

The Griffins notched three goals within a span of 52 seconds early in the middle frame to leapfrog Cleveland and seize a 4-2 advantage. Puempel announced his return to the lineup at the 2:13 mark, slamming home the fat rebound of a Tangradi shot to knot the score on his 10th goal of the campaign.

Forty seconds later, Matthew Ford staked the Griffins’ to their first lead at 3-2, ripping a shot past Kivlenieks’ blocker from atop the left circle to spell the end of the night for the goalie. It was his team-high 13th goal of the season.

The Monsters’ relief puckstopper, Ivan Kulbakov, was welcomed with a red light only 12 seconds into his tenure. Corey Elkins made a nice play at the Cleveland blue line to keep the puck in the zone and sped toward the net before centering a pass to a crashing Tangradi for an easy tap-in and a two-goal cushion with 16:55 still showing on the clock.

Grand Rapids tallied its fifth consecutive goal 1:53 into the third, when Tangradi planted himself between the circles and redirected Robbie Russo’s slapper from the right point for his second goal of the evening.

A game that was unremarkable penalty-wise received a jolt with four minutes remaining. Dominik Shine bumped into Kulbakov and was forced to answer by Joe Pendenza, who was immediately greeted by two thundering rights from Shine that sent the Cleveland center to ice. Another goaltender interference call on Evgeny Svechnikov at 17:28 sparked a cross-check by Brett Gallant and some additional pushing and shoving, but the rest of the game passed without incident.

Coreau snapped back from his early struggles to finish with 27 saves, while his counterparts Kulbakov (14-of-16) and Kivlenieks (8-of-11) combined for 22 stops.

Three Stars: 1. GR Tangradi (two goals, assist); 2. GR Puempel (goal, assist); 3. GR McIlrath (goal)