HAMILTON, Ontario – A probable playoff match up lived up to its billing, as the Grand Rapids Griffins lost to the Hamilton Bulldogs 6-3 in a hard-fought contest at the Copps Coliseum on Friday. The game was tied 3-3 with less than five minutes remaining before the Bulldogs pulled away with two power-play goals and an empty net tally.
The Griffins (42-22-6-6) are now two points ahead of the Bulldogs (45-27-4-0) in the race for second place in the North Division and home-ice advantage in the first-round series. Jimmy Howard made 43 saves on 48 shots to keep Grand Rapids in the game until two late 5-on-3 goals secured the game for the Bulldogs. Cedrick Desjardins stopped 29 shots in net for Hamilton. Justin Abdelkader set a Griffins rookie record with his 23rd goal of the season.
The scoring started early, as Brock Trotter put the Bulldogs up 1-0 just nine seconds into the game. It was the quickest goal to start a game the Griffins have allowed in franchise history. Grand Rapids matched that with a quick goal of its own, this one coming 35 seconds into the second period. Francis Lemieux dropped the puck into the slot for Darren Helm, who fired a shot that Darren McCarty redirected past Desjardins to tie the game.
David Desharnais put Hamilton back on top with his 20th goal of the season at the 15:15 mark of the middle stanza. Desharnais set up just inside the left circle and then one-timed a feed from behind the net, beating Howard to the glove side to make the score 2-1. The third period started the same way as the first two. Desharnais put home a rebound 35 seconds into the final period to give the Bulldogs a two-goal lead with his second goal of the night.
Abdelkader scored on a power play 6:17 into the third to cut the Hamilton lead to one. Mattias Ritola, making his first appearance back after missing six games due to injury, set up Abdelkader right in front of the cage for the goal. Then Darren Haydar tied the game 6:54 later with a blast from the point on the Griffins’ next power play. Ritola picked up his second assist of the game, while Brian Lashoff earned his second assist in just his second professional game.
The tie lasted only 2:33, as the Griffins took back-to-back delay of game penalties and the Bulldogs scored on a 5-on-3 power play. Yannick Weber unleashed a slap shot from the right circle during the 1:40 two-man advantage for the goal, which was followed by another Grand Rapids penalty, another 5-on-3 scenario and another Hamilton power-play goal. Desharnais completed the hat trick, giving the Bulldogs a two-goal cushion with 3:25 remaining. The final tally came with 27 seconds left, when Alex Henry was credited with a goal after Abdelkader gloved the puck while defending an open net.
Three Stars: 1. HAM Desharnais (Hat trick, assist); 2. HAM Trotter (Goal, 2 assists); 3. HAM Glumac (4 assists)