GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Home ice continues to be anything but an advantage in the North Division Semifinals, as the Hamilton Bulldogs made it three straight for the road team with a 5-4 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Monday at Van Andel Arena.
The resilient Griffins, who staged a third-period rally to win Game 2 in Hamilton on Saturday, sliced a two-goal Bulldogs lead in half on three different occasions tonight before succumbing to the expiration of the clock. Ville Leino and Brian Lashoff each had a goal and an assist, while Darren Haydar and Garrett Stafford finished with three assists and two assists, respectively.
Grand Rapids still possesses home-ice advantage and a 2-1 series lead over Hamilton, with Game 4 on Wednesday and Game 5 on Friday set for Van Andel Arena at 7 p.m. each night.
The first period featured a steady parade of players to the penalty box, a situation that the Bulldogs took advantage of to get on the board first. Moments after a brief 5-on-3 Hamilton power play became a one-man advantage, Yanick Lehoux ripped a shot over Jimmy Howard’s shoulder from the bottom of the left circle at the 10:38 mark.
Darren McCarty, who was whistled for the period’s 11th minor penalty with 2:42 remaining, made amends shortly after being sprung from confinement by netting the tying tally at 19:35. From the end boards, Haydar circled around the right of the net and slipped a backhand pass across the slot to McCarty, who quickly beat Marc Denis from the left side for his second goal and third point of the playoffs.
That assist, the 72nd of Haydar’s storied postseason career, broke Willie Marshall’s Calder Cup Playoff record. Haydar is now the league’s all-time playoff leader in goals (56), assists and points (128).
The Bulldogs went back on top at 2-1 just 3:38 into the middle period. Howard came out of his net and went down to stop an attempt by Ryan Russell, but Kyle Chipchura pounced on the juicy rebound and backhanded the puck into a gaping net. Ben Maxwell pushed the lead to two less than two minutes later, breaking in on Howard and lifting a backhand into the top corner of the cage at 5:17.
Lashoff answered with his first pro playoff goal at 8:21 to pull the Griffins within one at 3-2, taking a pass from Haydar in the right circle and threading a high wrister through a sea of bodies. But Grand Rapids’ deficit returned to two goals midway through the third, as Russell deflected Chad Anderson’s shot from the right point at 8:37 to make it a 4-2 contest.
The Griffins worked the tip drill to perfection during a power play with 6:04 remaining, when Leino redirected Lashoff’s one-timer from the point to again trim the Bulldogs’ lead to one. Soon after, Ryan White stole the puck at the Grand Rapids blue line and scored on a breakaway with 2:43 left to seemingly ice matters, but Justin Abdelkader responded with his team-high fourth goal of the postseason 25 seconds later to set up a frantic but ultimately fruitless final assault by the Griffins.
Howard finished with 21 saves, while Denis countered with 27 for the victory.
The Griffins won four of the five previous best-of-seven series in which they held a 2-1 lead.
Three Stars: 1. HAM Chipchura (goal), GR Lashoff (power play goal, assist), HAM Russell (goal, assist)