GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Hours after being reassigned by the Detroit Red Wings, Darren Helm scored a pair of goals to pace the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 6-3 win over the Manitoba Moose on Friday at Van Andel Arena.
Evan McGrath enjoyed a three-point night (1-2—3) and Adam Berkhoel made 20 saves for his 10th win of the season, as the Griffins dealt a blow to the Moose in their battle for playoff positioning. Manitoba’s loss, coupled with Syracuse’s 4-0 win at Rochester, has deadlocked the Moose and Crunch for second place in the North Division at 96 points apiece, as the two teams fight for home-ice advantage in their upcoming playoff series.
Grand Rapids (30-41-2-6) will aim to finish its season with a victory for just the second time ever and secure a 0.500 record at Van Andel Arena when it hosts a return engagement with the Moose (45-27-2-4) at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The Griffins drew first blood against former teammate Drew MacIntyre just 5:02 into the opening period. After grabbing an errant puck in the Grand Rapids zone and breaking up the left side, McGrath threaded a cross-ice pass to Francis Lemieux, whose one-timer from the top of the circle beat MacIntyre to the right post. Tyler Redenbach increased Grand Rapids’ advantage to 2-0 during a power play with exactly two minutes left in the frame, taking a feed from Jamie Tardif at the right hashmarks and slipping a shot inside the far post.
The Moose needed only 19 seconds of the middle period to get on the board. Off a turnover in the Manitoba end, Alexandre Bolduc sped ahead of the Griffins defense and put a wrister through Berkhoel’s five hole.
Undaunted, the Griffins rebuilt their lead to 4-1 by the time the period was six minutes old. At 4:31, Randall Gelech pounced on a loose puck in the slot and quickly whipped it past MacIntyre, and 1:07 later, Helm broke in on a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Carl Corazzini, faking a pass before putting a shot behind the netminder from the left side.
Manitoba trimmed its deficit to two early in the third, as Colby Genoway sped around his man and beat Berkhoel for an easy tally at the 4:48 mark. But Helm notched his second of the night at 6:24 to make it a 5-2 contest, collecting his own rebound and lifting a backhand past MacIntyre.
The Moose’s Greg Rallo scored on a deflection with 3:34 remaining, and McGrath crashed the net for a power play goal while bowling over MacIntyre with 52 ticks left for the final margin. MacIntyre, a Second Team AHL All-Star, finished with 27 saves on the night and saw his record against his former mates fall to 3-3 this season.
With tonight’s crowd of 7,234, the Griffins need to draw 8,316 for tomorrow’s season finale to achieve two consecutive seasons of increased attendance for the first time in franchise history. The accomplishment is a near certainty, given a current presale in excess of 8,000 for Saturday’s contest.