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KNOCKOUT PUNCH

Chicago Wolves 4 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 5 OT

March 17, 2017

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
– A heavyweight battle between the Central Division’s top two teams more than lived up to its billing on Friday at Van Andel Arena. Tomas Nosek forced overtime with nine seconds remaining in regulation and Evgeny Svechnikov scored 1:51 into the extra session to give the Grand Rapids Griffins a heart-stopping 5-4 victory over the Chicago Wolves.

The Wolves – now a blistering 9-0-3-0 in their last 12 outings – nearly dropped the Griffins out of first place in the division for the first time since early January, but Grand Rapids maintains its spot by virtue of a 0.680-0.659 advantage in points percentage. The longtime rivals, now tied at 83 points apiece with the Griffins holding two games in hand, will stage an encore on Saturday at Allstate Arena. Faceoff is set for 8 p.m. EDT.

Joe Hicketts began and finished the play that put the Griffins (39-17-1-4) on the board just 59 seconds into the game. Intercepting the puck at his own blue line, he sent it up the right side to Matthew Ford, who eventually centered a pass to Eric Tangradi for a shot that Jordan Binnington turned aside. But a trailing Hicketts won a race to the rebound in the slot and popped it inside the left post before the netminder could get across.

Grand Rapids landed another early haymaker during a power play at the 5:07 mark. Ford found a loose puck at the right post and had several whacks at it before jamming it between Binnington’s skate and the pipe.

The Wolves (37-17-6-3) notched their own power play marker at 14:06, as Ty Rattie sped past a defender at the right point and launched a wicked wrist shot from the faceoff dot that found the near corner of Jared Coreau’s cage.

Chicago completed its comeback from the 2-0 deficit thanks to defenseman Kevin Tansey, who converted a backdoor pass from league-leading scorer Kenny Agostino for his first AHL goal 7:21 into the second period.

The teams exchanged blows midway through the final frame. Rushing into the Wolves’ zone, Martin Frk unleashed a cannon from just inside the line that appeared to deflect off defenseman Chris Butler on its way into the top of the net at 8:02. Less than three minutes later, Chicago forged its second tie when Brad Malone finished off a scramble around the Griffins’ net, chipping a shot home from the slot with 9:17 remaining.

The Wolves struck a nearly fatal blow by grabbing their first lead of the night at 18:09, as Petteri Lindbohm snuck a shot past Coreau’s blocker from the left circle. Grand Rapids soon pulled Coreau for an extra attacker, and following a late timeout, the tactics paid dividends with nine seconds left. A shot by Tangradi bounced into the air at the top of the crease, and Nosek swooped through to bat the puck over Binnington, off the crossbar and down across the line, sending the tilt to overtime and the crowd into a frenzy.

Nosek rang a shot off the right post from point-blank range 75 seconds into the 3-on-3 stanza, but about 30 seconds later, Svechnikov forced a turnover at the top of the circles and immediately fired the puck through Binnington, putting this round in the Griffins’ column.

Coreau stopped 25 shots for Grand Rapids while Binnington answered with 33 saves.

Notes: The Griffins reduced their magic number for clinching a fifth consecutive Calder Cup Playoff berth to 12 points…Frk’s 22nd goal tied Ben Street and Coreau’s 13th win tied Eddie Pasquale for team leadership.

Three Stars: 1. GR Svechnikov (overtime goal, assist); 2. GR Ford (power play goal, assist); 3. CHI Malone (goal, assist)