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02/22/2012 9:47 PM -

Hamilton Bulldogs 2 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 4

Feb. 22, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.Ty Conklin’s first appearance before a home crowd this season resulted in his first AHL victory in more than four years, as his 22 saves and Gustav Nyquist’s three points paced the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 4-2 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday at Van Andel Arena.

A dominant first period for the Griffins paved the way to an important divisional triumph. Grand Rapids improved to 5-1 against Hamilton and 12-4-1-1 within the North Division, while evening its record at 0.500 (21-21-5-4) and climbing within eight points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Griffins will stage their second of four straight games against division rivals on Friday when the Lake Erie Monsters pay a 7 p.m. visit.

Having played just 11 games this season – all on the road as a Detroit Red Wing – Conklin appropriately saw little action during the opening period of his Griffins debut. Grand Rapids out-shot Hamilton by a 15-1 margin and did not allow a puck to make it through to its new netminder until just 2:04 remained before intermission.

Meanwhile, Grand Rapids made the most of its opportunities on the other end to take a 2-0 lead into the locker room. During a power play at 11:04, Nyquist took a pass from Brendan Smith near the bottom of the right circle and made a deft move in-close on Robert Mayer before shoving the puck home for his 17th goal of the season.

Nyquist then helped the home team extend its lead in the final minute of the period, only moments after a Hamilton power play expired. He led a rush into the Bulldogs’ zone and skated to top of the right circle before slipping a pass into the slot to a charging Chris Conner, who redirected the feed past Mayer with 24 seconds left.

Smith pushed the Griffins’ advantage to 3-0 with another power play goal at 8:10 of the second, scoring on a wrister from the high slot off an assist from Nyquist. But Hamilton (24-24-1-4) finally got on the board at the 16:20 mark, as reigning AHL Player of the Week Joonas Nattinen set up at the right hashmarks, took a pass from the end boards and slapped the puck inside the far post.

A pair of Griffins penalties late in the period gave the Bulldogs a 5-on-3 advantage and a faceoff in Grand Rapids’ zone with only nine seconds left, which was all they needed to pull within one. Conklin got a piece of a Garrett Stafford one-timer from the left circle, but when the puck trickled behind him, Blake Geoffrion was waiting to put it into an empty net with 0.7 seconds showing on the clock.

Grand Rapids killed off the remainder of the power play to start the third, and Conklin turned aside the nine shots he faced in the frame before Tomas Tatar scored into an empty net from the neutral zone at 19:37 to seal matters.

Conklin, who hadn’t faced live fire since Feb. 4 or played a full game since Jan. 17, made his first AHL appearance since Dec. 1, 2007, when he stopped 32 shots for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in a 2-1 shootout win at Hershey. Mayer, meanwhile, put in a valiant effort for Hamilton, keeping the Bulldogs in the game with 41 saves while his team was out-gunned 45-24 on the night.

Notes: Nyquist’s three points give him 50 for the season, moving him past teammate Francis Pare (48 in 2008-09) and into third place on Grand Rapids’ all-time rookie scoring list. His 17 goals tie Tomas Kopecky (2002-03) for eighth among first-year Griffins…Conklin made it 5-for-5 in victories for goalies who brought more than 100 games of NHL experience into their Griffins debut. He also became the fourth straight to win his first game at Van Andel Arena, joining Manny Legace, Chris Osgood and Curtis Joseph. Only Pokey Reddick lost his home debut, the Griffins’ first game at Van Andel Arena on Oct. 11, 1996.

Three Stars: 1. GR Nyquist (power play goal, two assists); 2. HAM Geoffrion (power play goal, assist); 3. GR Conklin (W, 22 saves)

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