GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Behind two goals by captain Darren Haydar and a record-setting defensive performance, the Grand Rapids Griffins seized a 3-2 series lead in the North Division Semifinals with a 4-1 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday at Van Andel Arena.
Grand Rapids set a franchise playoff record by allowing just 15 shots on Jimmy Howard, with the only attempt that escaped his grasp coming during a 5-on-3 Bulldogs power play. Defensemen Jakub Kindl and Tom Galvin contributed on both ends of the ice with a goal and an assist each, as the Griffins built an early 2-0 lead en route to a dominant victory.
The Griffins will have an opportunity to close out the series in Game 6 on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum.
A hooking call on Bulldogs forward Greg Stewart, assigned Thursday by the Montreal Canadiens, gave the Griffins an early power play that they used to take a 1-0 lead. After Darren McCarty won a faceoff in the left circle, Joakim Andersson slid the puck back to Kindl at the point. Kindl fired a shot that Marc Denis denied, but Galvin found the rebound in the slot and lifted a backhand through a crowd at the eight-minute mark.
Kindl made it a 2-0 contest at 15:07 of the first, just three seconds after another power play chance expired, flinging a shot on goal from the left point that sailed past Denis on assists from Francis Pare and Galvin.
Hamilton received 1:20 of a two-man advantage late in the period and took little time in capitalizing, as Mike Glumac one-timed a pass from Ben Maxwell into the back of the net from the high slot at 17:51. But Grand Rapids got it back with the lone goal of the second, as Haydar’s slap shot from above the circles beat Denis during a power play – with Stewart again in the box for hooking – at 11:11.
The Griffins, who in Wednesday’s Game 4 squandered the two-goal lead they held after 40 minutes, were determined not to repeat the mistake, dominating the play in the early portion of the third before increasing their lead to 4-1 at the 7:17 mark. On a 2-on-1 break with Justin Abdelkader, Haydar held onto the puck down the left side before ripping a shot into the top corner of the net for his second goal.
Grand Rapids continued to out-work and frustrate the visitors in the third, out-shooting them by a whopping 15-3 margin and refusing to back down when the Bulldogs initiated several scraps in the final minutes.
Howard was solid if seldom called upon, stopping 14 shots on the night to earn his franchise-record 11th career playoff win. Denis made 30 saves in the losing effort.
Should the Griffins, who won Games 1 and 2 in Hamilton last weekend, need to ward off overconfidence heading into Game 6, they need to look no further than their last playoff series. In the 2007 North Division Semifinals, Grand Rapids owned a 3-2 lead over division champion Manitoba heading back to Games 6 and 7 at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, but the Moose claimed a pair of home-ice wins to advance.
Tonight’s crowd of 5,110 brought the Griffins’ three-game, first-round attendance to 12,568 (4,189 avg.), an increase of 32 percent over two years ago.
Three Stars: 1. GR Haydar (goal, power play goal); 2. GR Galvin (power play goal, assist); 3. GR Kindl (game-winning goal, assist)