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03/21/2005 6:02 PM - Two Games in Houston Have Major Bearing on Playoff Fate

This Week’s Games

Wed., March 23 - GRIFFINS at Milwaukee Admirals - 8 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Fri., March 25 - GRIFFINS at Houston Aeros - 8:35 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM/WHTC 1450 AM

Sat., March 26 - GRIFFINS at San Antonio Rampage - 8 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Sun., March 27 - GRIFFINS at Houston Aeros - 6:05 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Last Week’s Results
Fri., March 18 - Edmonton Road Runners 2 at GRIFFINS 0 - 31-29-2-1, 65 pts. (5th, West Division)

Sat., March 19 - GRIFFINS 4 at Chicago Wolves 3 - 32-29-2-1, 67 pts. (5th)
Sun., March 20 - Edmonton Road Runners 1 at GRIFFINS 4 - 33-29-2-1, 69 pts. (5th)

Huge Week: With four wins in their last five games, the Griffins have climbed within three points of fourth-place Houston in the race for the West Division’s final playoff spot. Grand Rapids, which made up four points on the Aeros on Saturday and Sunday alone, still has two games in hand on Houston. The teams will stage their final meetings of the season this Friday and Sunday at the Toyota Center, part of the Griffins’ four-game, five-day road trip.

Three’s Company: Grand Rapids, Houston and Cincinnati are separated by just six points in a tight West Division race, with just two playoff berths to be earned among them. The Aeros and Ducks will each play eight of their 13 remaining games at home, and Houston faces the easiest schedule in terms of opponents’ winning percentage:

Team – Points - Games Left - Opponents’ Win. %
Cincinnati – 75 - 13 (8 home, 5 road) - 0.552
Houston – 72 - 13 (8 home, 5 road) - 0.471
Grand Rapids – 69 - 15 (5 home, 10 road) - 0.473

Simply the Best: During Sunday’s 4-1 win over Edmonton, Joey MacDonald pushed his franchise-record consecutive games played streak to 20 while making his 13th consecutive start, two shy of the standard set by Mike Fountain in 2000-01. In that game, he also broke Marc Lamothe’s team record for single-season saves (1,483 to 1,469), and he remains on pace to smash the team marks for games played and minutes played as well. MacDonald, who for the third time in a month played every minute of a three-in-three over the weekend, ranks as the Griffins’ all-time leader in games played (119), minutes played (6731:05), wins (63), shutouts (13) and saves (3,107).

Spoil Sports: Saturday in Chicago, Grand Rapids rallied for a 4-3 win over a Wolves team that had not lost in regulation either at home (Feb. 4) or overall (Feb. 18) in more than a month. The loss ended Chicago’s 12-0-1-0 streak overall along with its 10-0-1-1 run at home, as the Griffins – who also won 3-2 in overtime at Allstate Arena on March 5 – broke a six-game Wolves winning streak for the second time in two weeks. Grand Rapids concluded the season series by winning three in a row and four of the last six against Chicago.

Three For All: This weekend’s Texas three-step marks the eighth of 11 “three-in-threes” that the Griffins will play this season. To date, they are 12-9-0-0 when playing three games in as many nights, including an impressive 5-2-0-0 record in the third game.

Busy Boys: The Griffins, whose 65 games played tie Lowell and Wilkes-Barre for the fewest in the league, will play 15 games over the final 26 days of the 2004-05 regular season, beginning Wednesday in Milwaukee.

Deuce in the Hole: Prior to rallying from a 2-0 deficit to take a 4-3 win at Chicago on Saturday, the Griffins had lost the previous 18 games in which they had fallen behind 2-0 and the last 23 games in which they had trailed by two goals at any point. Grand Rapids’ last win in either scenario was a 5-4 victory at St. John’s on Dec. 8.

The More the Merrier: Following Joey MacDonald’s 42-save performance in Saturday’s 4-3 win at Allstate Arena, the Griffins are now 3-0-0-1 this season in games in which the AHL All-Star has made 40 or more stops. All four efforts have come on the road, including a 5-1 win at Chicago on Oct. 16 (46 saves), a 3-2 shootout loss at Cleveland on Dec. 22 (41) and a 4-3 shootout win at Houston on Jan. 23 (46).

Short-Sighted Center: Matt Ellis, who on March 12 became the first player in team history to score two shorthanded goals in a home game, tallied his fourth shorty of the season on Sunday versus the Road Runners, matching the single-season record set by Kory Karlander in 1998-99. Ellis has registered the first assist on three of the Griffins’ five overtime goals this season, and now shows points in 14 of the last 21 games (9-10—19). He ranks second on the team in both goals (16) and points (35), more than doubling the production of his 2003-04 rookie season (5-10—15).

Manlow Among Boys: After sitting out 18 straight games due to injury, Eric Manlow has returned to the Griffins’ lineup in style. The team’s leading goal scorer with 18, he has lit the lamp four times in five games since his return to the lineup on March 11.

Kronwall Back on Top: With two assists on Sunday against Edmonton, Griffins leading scorer Niklas Kronwall climbed back atop the AHL’s scoring list for defensemen with 46 points (11-35—46). His 46 points and 35 assists are already records for a Grand Rapids blueliner, and he needs five more goals to tie Aris Brimanis’ standard (16).

Gathering Moss: The Griffins’ 2-0 loss to Edmonton on Friday marked the ninth time they’ve been shut out this season, one shy of the club record set in 2001-02. Former Griffin Tyler Moss made 36 saves to earn his second shutout of the Griffins this year and his fourth in a span of nine games against them over the last two seasons. Moss’ five career shutouts against Grand Rapids are two more than any other opposing goalie.

Take a Shot: In 17 games (9-7-1-0) under head coach Greg Ireland, the Griffins have out shot their opposition by an average of 33.5 to 29.2 (+4.3) and have held a shot advantage in 12 of those games (71%). Over their first 48 games, the Griffins held the upper hand only 22 times (46%) and were outgunned by an average of 30.65 to 29.10 (-1.55).

Climbing the Charts: Kip Miller, whose 72 assists (7th) and 117 points (8th) place among the best in team history, stands tenth all-time with 45 goals, putting him two behind brother Kevin for ninth place. Miller needs five points to hit 1,000 as a pro…Peter Vandermeer’s next goal will be his 100th as a pro…Eric Manlow has 97 goals in 360 AHL games…Ryan Barnes needs four games to become the ninth Griffin to appear in 200 regular season contests.

League Leaders: Joey MacDonald stands among the league’s top goalies with 3,145:36 minutes played (2nd), 1,483 saves (4th), 27 wins (T5th) and a 0.927 save percentage (10th)…Niklas Kronwall places among the AHL’s top blueliners with 11 goals (T6th), 35 assists (T2nd) and 46 points (1st)…Eric Himelfarb ranks among the circuit’s top rookies with 15 goals (T6th), 32 points (T10th), seven power play goals (T4th) and two shorthanded goals (T2nd).

This Week’s Scouting Report

Wed., March 23 at Milwaukee Admirals (41-19-3-4) – Bradley Center – 8 p.m.

TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 7:59 p.m. Season Series: 3-3-0-0 Overall, 1-1-0-0 Road. Seventh of eight meetings overall, third of four in Milwaukee. All-Time Series: 34-19-11-0 Overall, 13-11-9-0 Road. NHL Affiliation: Nashville Predators. Head Coach: Claude Noel (2nd season). Ships Ahoy: The previous two meetings in Milwaukee featured 1-0 finals, with each team claiming a win…The Admirals, who are now tied with Chicago atop the West Division, lost an 11-point lead over the Wolves since Feb. 9…Milwaukee will conclude a nine-game homestand (6-2-0-0) by hosting the Griffins…Simon Gamache’s 76 points (24-52—76) and Brian Finley’s 32 wins each rank third in the AHL.

Fri., March 25 at Houston Aeros (31-26-6-4) – Toyota Center – 8:35 p.m.
Sun., March 27 at Houston Aeros – Toyota Center – 6:05 p.m.

TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM/WHTC 1450 AM at 8:10 p.m. (Fri.) and WOOD 1300 AM at 5:40 p.m. (Sun.). Season Series: 3-2-1-0 Overall, 1-1-0-0 Road. Seventh and eighth of eight meetings overall, third and fourth of four on the road. All-Time Series: 25-18-11-0 Overall, 10-10-7-0 Road. NHL Affiliations: Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars. Head Coach: Todd McLellan (4th season). Aero Dynamics: All six meetings this season have had a margin of no more than two goals, including four one-goal decisions…The Aeros’ 3-1 win in St. Paul, Minn., on March 7 broke the Griffins’ three-game series winning streak…Houston is just 2-5-0-1 in its last eight…Both Joey MacDonald (0.954) and the Aeros’ Josh Harding (0.951) have tremendous save percentages in the season series…Grand Rapids has converted only one of 22 (4.5%) power play chances against Houston.

Sat., March 26 at San Antonio Rampage (25-37-3-5) – SBC Center – 8 p.m.
TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 7:40 p.m. Season Series: 4-1-0-0 Overall, 2-0-0-0 Road. Sixth of eight meetings overall, third of four in San Antonio. All-Time Series: 16-8-1-0 Overall, 8-4-0-0 Road. NHL Affiliation: Florida Panthers. Head Coach: Steve Ludzik (2nd season). On a Rampage: Two of the Griffins’ four series wins have come in overtime, including the last meeting in G.R. (2-1 on Feb. 26) and the most recent visit to S.A. (4-3 on Oct. 24)…The Rampage have won just one of their last six games (1-5-0-0), two of their last 12 (2-8-1-1) and three of their last 17 (3-12-1-1)…Still, their record at home is just a game under .500 at 14-15-1-3…Despite his 17-24-4 record, goalie Travis Scott boasts a sparkling 0.929 save percentage.

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