GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Ryan White’s centering pass at 2:42 of overtime deflected off a defender’s stick and past Jimmy Howard to lift the Hamilton Bulldogs to a stunning 4-3 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday at Van Andel Arena, tying the best-of-seven North Division Semifinals at two wins apiece.
Down 3-0 with just over 12 minutes remaining in regulation, the Bulldogs scored three special teams goals in a span of only 3:29 to force overtime, including a shorthanded marker by Kyle Chipchura and a pair of power play tallies by Ben Maxwell.
Grand Rapids will host Game 5 at Van Andel Arena on Friday at 7 p.m. before the series shifts back to Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum for Game 6 on Sunday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Monday.
The Griffins needed only 34 seconds to score the game’s first goal. Off a turnover in the neutral zone, Aaron Gagnon took an outlet pass from Jason Jozsa, broke in alone on Marc Denis and deked to his backhand before stuffing the puck across the line for the first playoff goal of his AHL career.
Nearly half the game would pass before Gagnon helped put Grand Rapids ahead by a 2-0 count. After getting the puck from Aaron Downey in the slot, Gagnon tried to go wide around Denis and slip it inside the right post, but the puck trickled out into the crease to a crashing Jamie Tardif for his first career playoff goal at 9:37 of the second.
Soon after, Denis stoned Darren McCarty and Joakim Andersson on consecutive scoring chances to keep the visitors within striking distance after 40 minutes. But Justin Abdelkader continued his late-game magic 44 ticks after intermission, scoring his league-high fifth goal and seventh point of the postseason, all of which have been registered during the third period. During a power play, Brian Lashoff’s try from the left side rebounded into the right circle to Abdelkader, who popped a shot into a wide-open cage to give Grand Rapids its first three-goal lead of the playoffs.
After building and protecting that advantage over the game’s first 48 minutes, the Griffins quickly saw it evaporate. Howard lost his shutout bid at the 7:58 mark when Chipchura scored an a shorthanded breakaway, then Maxwell’s one-timer from the right side sailed into the top of the net during a power play with 10:19 remaining to pull Hamilton within one. Maxwell replicated his shot during another power play at 11:27, tying the game and eventually sending it to overtime.
Howard, who began the night with a 4-0 lifetime record in playoff games decided in overtime, made 20 saves, while Denis helped his team rally with 33 stops.
Hamilton’s victory was the fourth straight for the road team in this series, and it snapped the Griffins’ streak of five consecutive overtime wins during the postseason.
The Griffins have an all-time record of 1-1 in best-of-seven playoff series that were tied at two games apiece, going the distance to beat Manitoba in the 2006 North Division Finals and losing to the Moose in seven games during the 2007 North Division Semifinals.
Three Stars: 1. HAM Maxwell (two power play goals), GR Gagnon (goal, assist), HAM White (game-winning goal)