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04/04/2005 3:58 PM - Grand Rapids Sits Three Points Back of Cincinnati and Houston

This Week’s Games

Thu., April 7 - GRIFFINS at San Antonio Rampage - 8 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM/WHTC 1450 AM

Fri., April 8 - GRIFFINS at Utah Grizzlies - 9:05 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Sat., April 9 - GRIFFINS at Utah Grizzlies - 9:05 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Last Week’s Results
Tue., March 29 - Cleveland Barons 0 at GRIFFINS 5 - 37-30-2-1, 77 pts. (T3rd, West Division)

Fri., April 1 - Utah Grizzlies 2 at GRIFFINS 1 SO - 37-30-2-2, 78 pts. (5th)

Sat., April 2 - Utah Grizzlies 3 at GRIFFINS 4 SO - 38-30-2-2, 80 pts. (5th)

Sun., April 3 - GRIFFINS 1 at Hamilton Bulldogs 4 - 38-31-2-2, 80 pts. (5th)

Down to the Wire: Despite owning a 9-3-0-1 record in their last 13 games, the Griffins fell three points out of a playoff spot on Sunday due to their 4-1 loss at Hamilton and wins by both Houston and Cincinnati. With seven games remaining for all three teams and just two playoff berths to be earned among them, the Ducks have the advantage with four games left at home. The Griffins, who have the easiest remaining schedule, will face Cincinnati two more times (April 15 in GR, April 17 at CIN) and would currently win a tiebreaker with the Aeros based on number of wins.

Team - Points/Wins - Games Left - Opponents’ Win. %
Cincinnati - 83 / 39 - 7 (4 home, 3 road) - 0.567
Houston - 83 / 36 - 7 (3 home, 4 road) - 0.474
Grand Rapids - 80 / 38 - 7 (2 home, 5 road) - 0.460

Road Warriors: Grand Rapids’ five-game road trip continues later this week with visits to San Antonio (Thu.) and Utah (Fri. and Sat.), the only two Western Conference teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention. The Griffins are tied for third in the AHL with 20 road wins (20-14-0-1), marking the third straight season and fifth time in the last six campaigns that they’ve claimed at least 20 victories on foreign ice.

Tradition of Excellence: With the next standings point they earn, the Griffins (38-31-2-2) will secure their sixth consecutive season with a winning record. The 1998-99 squad (34-40-8) was the only team in the franchise’s nine-year history that either finished on the negative side of the ledger or missed the playoffs.

The Place To Be: With home attendance of 9,578 last Friday and 9,119 last Saturday against Utah, the Griffins enjoyed their first consecutive crowds of 9,000-plus this season, as well as their largest back-to-back attendance total (18,697) of the year.

For the Record: Grand Rapids is 14-9-1-1 (0.600) since former assistant Greg Ireland was named head coach on Feb. 10, including a 13-6-1-1 record (0.667) since Feb. 25…Saturday’s win over Utah gave the Griffins a winning home record (18-17-2-1) for the first time since Christmas. They have won seven of their last 11 (7-2-1-1) at Van Andel Arena…Six of Grand Rapids’ last 13 home games have gone past regulation, with the Griffins going 2-1 in overtime and 2-1 in shootouts.

Kudos for Kronwall?: Niklas Kronwall, a top candidate for the AHL’s Eddie Shore Award (Outstanding Defenseman), could earn his first honor this Thursday when the league’s First and Second All-Star Teams are announced. His 50 points (12-38—50), a record for a Griffins defenseman, currently lead all AHL blueliners. Kronwall, who leads Matt Ellis by 11 points in the race for the team scoring title, should become the first defenseman to ever pace the Griffins offensively. He is bidding to become the first Grand Rapids rearguard to be named to a postseason all-star team since John Gruden earned First Team AHL honors in 2002.

Busy Boys: The Griffins, who played 11 games (7-3-0-1) in a 17-day span from March 18-April 3, will play another seven games over the final 11 days of the 2004-05 campaign…This Thursday’s game at San Antonio will begin the tenth of 11 “three-in-threes” that the Griffins will play this season. They are now 15-11-0-1 (0.574) when playing three games in as many nights, including a 5-4-0-0 record (0.556) in the third game.

Simply the Best: Joey MacDonald, who pushed his franchise-record streaks to 28 consecutive games played and 21 straight starts last night against Hamilton, stands within two of Mike Fountain’s standard of 34 wins. MacDonald is poised to become the third Grand Rapids goalie to lead the league in minutes played (3601:19) and the first to pace the circuit in saves (1,715). The Griffins’ single-season record holder for starts (61), games played (63), minutes played and saves, he also ranks as Grand Rapids’ all-time leader in starts (123), games played (127), minutes played (7186:48), wins (68), shutouts (14) and saves (3,339).

OT/SO Success: The Griffins sport a cumulative 13-4 record this season in games that have been decided after regulation time (6-2 in overtime, 7-2 in shootouts). Their 13 wins tie St. John’s for the AHL lead, while their 0.765 winning percentage and four losses each rank second.

Take Advantage: The Griffins’ 0-for-11 performance on the power play versus Utah last Friday tied a franchise record for most chances in a game (11/1/02 vs. Chicago). After going 0-for-2 last night in Hamilton, Grand Rapids is 1-for-25 over its last five games…Prior to Erik Westrum’s 5-on-3 goal in the third period on Saturday versus Utah, the Griffins had killed off 29 consecutive opponent power plays.

March to Remember: Joey MacDonald started all 15 games for the Griffins during March, including three separate 3-in-3s, and played 97.3% of the possible minutes between the pipes. He posted a 9-6-0 record with one shutout, a 2.03 GAA and a 0.936 save percentage, and more remarkably, did not allow more than three goals in any game despite his intense workload. For the month, MacDonald was 3-1 in overtime, 1-0 in shootouts, and 3-0 in games in which he made 40 or more saves.

On Fire: Jiri Hudler has points in four of the last five games (2-3—5)…Eric Himelfarb owns a three-game point streak (2-1—3) and has points in four of six contests (2-2—4). With 36 points (17-19—36), he needs one point to tie Josh Langfeld and Chris Bala (both 2001-02) for fourth place on the Griffins’ single-season rookie scoring list…Bryan Helmer registered an assist in three of four games last week.

Miller Time: Kip Miller’s six-game assist streak (0-10—10) was snapped last Friday, one game shy of tying the franchise record held by Derek King and Michel Picard. Miller’s four-assist explosion against the Barons last Tuesday tied a team record for assists in a home game as well as the AHL’s season-high for a single game.

League Leaders: Joey MacDonald stands among the league’s top goalies with a 2.22 GAA (11th), a 0.928 save percentage (9th), five shutouts (T10th), 32 wins (4th), 63 games played (1st), 61 starts (1st), 3,601:19 minutes played (1st) and 1,715 saves (1st)…Niklas Kronwall places among the AHL’s top blueliners with 12 goals (T4th), 38 assists (T2nd) and 50 points (1st)…Eric Himelfarb ranks among the circuit’s top rookies with 17 goals (6th), 36 points (T11th), seven power play goals (T5th) and two shorthanded goals (T2nd)…Darryl Bootland (321 PIM) and Peter Vandermeer (308 PIM) rank third and fourth, respectively, in sin-bin time.

Shootout Stories: The Griffins saw their shootout records improve to 7-2 this season and 43-47 all time with their 4-3 win over Utah on Saturday. For the year, Griffins shooters have scored on 19 of their 48 shootout attempts (39.6%) – the fifth-best conversion rate in the AHL – while Joey MacDonald (6-2) and Drew MacIntyre (1-0) have turned away 39 of the opposition’s 50 shooters (78.0%), the league’s third-best mark. After denying all four Grizzlies attempts on Saturday and 12 of their 15 tries over the two-game set, MacDonald has now stopped 35 of 45 shootout attempts (77.8%) for the season. Tomas Kopecky, meanwhile, scored on his lone attempt Saturday to improve to 5-for-8 (62.5%) this year.

By the Numbers: Where the Griffins rank among the AHL’s 28 teams in various statistical categories:
• Power Play: 48-for-364, 13.2% (25th)
• Penalty Killing: 351-for-409, 85.8% (10th)
• Penalty Minutes: 22.48 avg. (22nd)
• Goals For: 2.42 avg. (23rd)
• Goals Against: 2.38 avg. (5th)
• Shots For: 29.88 avg. (17th)
• Shots Against: 30.49 avg. (15th)
• Attendance: 6,493 avg. (10th)

This Week’s Scouting Report

Thu., April 7 at San Antonio Rampage (25-41-3-5) – SBC Center – 8 p.m.

TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM/WHTC 1450 AM at 7:59 p.m. Season Series: 5-1-0-0 Overall, 3-0-0-0 Road. Seventh of eight meetings overall, fourth and final in San Antonio. All-Time Series: 17-8-1-0 Overall, 9-4-0-0 Road. NHL Affiliation: Florida Panthers. Head Coach: Steve Ludzik (2nd season). On a Rampage: The Griffins have won three straight against the Rampage, including a 2-1 win in San Antonio on March 26 that was their third in as many visits to the SBC Center this season…Each of the last five meetings has been decided by a single goal, including a pair of Grand Rapids overtime wins…The Rampage have lost five straight and nine of their last 10…They haven’t scored more than one goal in 10 straight games, and have scored as many as two goals just once in their last 12 games, twice in their last 13 games and three times in their last 21 games…San Antonio has been outscored 31-7 since loaning Stephen Weiss and Jay Bouwmeester to Chicago on March 8…Despite his 17-25-4 record, goalie Travis Scott boasts a sparkling 0.930 save percentage.

Fri., April 8 at Utah Grizzlies (20-46-2-5) – The “E” Center – 9:05 p.m.
Sat., April 9 at Utah Grizzlies – The “E” Center – 9:05 p.m.

TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 8:59 p.m. (Fri.) and 8:40 p.m. (Sat.). Season Series: 3-2-0-1 Overall, 1-1-0-0 Road. Seventh and eighth of eight meetings overall, third and fourth of four in West Valley City. All-Time Series: 23-23-3-1 Overall, 8-14-2-0 Road. NHL Affiliation: Phoenix Coyotes. Head Coach: Pat Conacher (1st season). Grin and Bear It: Utah’s only plus-0.500 records this season are against Grand Rapids (3-2-0-1) and Manitoba (3-1-0-0)…The Grizzlies have three wins and a shootout loss in their last four games against the Griffins…Utah’s 20 wins and 13 home victories are each the fewest in the AHL…The Grizzlies are 1-4-1-1 in their last seven, the lone win being their 2-1 shootout triumph at Van Andel Arena on Friday…Grand Rapids earned a split at The “E” Center in mid-December. Beginning with a 3-1 loss to Utah in the second game, on Dec. 17, the Griffins have since posted a 20-24-1-2 record.

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