GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – With a pair of third-period goals, the Hamilton Bulldogs rallied for a 3-2 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday at Van Andel Arena, clinching second place in the North Division and home-ice advantage over the Griffins in their upcoming Calder Cup Playoff series.
The Griffins, who lost in regulation for the first time this season when leading after two periods (32-1-3-3), will open the North Division Semifinals at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum with Games 1 and 2 next Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18. The series will then shift to Van Andel Arena for Games 3-5 on Monday, April 20 (click here for tickets), Wednesday, April 22 (click here for tickets) and Friday, April 24 (if necessary). Tickets for Games 3 and 4 are also on sale through The Zone and all Star Tickets outlets.
Grand Rapids (43-24-6-6) will close out the regular season on Saturday with an 8 p.m. EDT tilt at Peoria.
The rivals traded goals within a span of 38 seconds in the early going. Grand Rapids took the upper hand during a 4-on-4 situation at 6:04, as Jakub Kindl darted toward the net to deflect Mattias Ritola’s wrister from the right side past Marc Denis. But a defensive lapse enabled the Bulldogs to net the quick equalizer, with Yanick Lehoux sending a pass across the slot to a wide-open Ben Maxwell for an easy tally from the right side.
Francis Lemieux burned his former mates to give the Griffins a 2-1 lead at the 5:25 mark of the second period. Carrying the puck through the neutral zone, he unleashed a shot from the Hamilton blue line that surprisingly bounced off a nonchalant Denis and into the back of the net.
Midway through the frame, the Bulldogs (48-27-4-0) somehow ended up with five minutes of power play time following an altercation sparked by Alex Henry’s hit from behind on Dan Charleston. Adding insult to injury, Hamilton’s advantage grew to a 5-on-3 for 95 seconds thanks to a hooking call on Kindl, but Grand Rapids’ highly ranked penalty killers escaped unscathed to carry the Griffins’ one-goal margin into the final 20 minutes.
That cushion lasted only 44 seconds after intermission. After the Griffins failed to clear the puck from their zone, Mathieu Carle took a slap shot from the right point that Mike Glumac redirected past Jimmy Howard, knotting the score. Hamilton then grabbed its only lead of the night with 4:02 remaining, when a pinball sequence in front of Howard’s net concluded with David Desharnais’ attempt trickling through the netminder’s pads.
Howard deserved a much better fate, stopping 40-of-43 shots on the night, but Denis took the win with a 24-save effort.
The game marked the Griffins’ fourth consecutive sellout and sixth of the season overall, and it brought their regular season attendance to 297,905, their highest figure since the 2000-01 season. The Griffins have seen three straight seasons of increased attendance, a franchise first, and their final average of 7,448 represents an increase of eight percent over the 2007-08 campaign.
Three Stars: 1. HAM Glumac (goal, assist); 2. GR Howard (L, 40 saves); 3. HAM Carle (two assists)