GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Another virtuoso performance by Cory Schneider propelled the Manitoba Moose to a 3-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday at Van Andel Arena, finishing off the North Division Finals with a four-game sweep of the home team.
Schneider turned away 30 shots, half of them during a furious third-period rally in which the Griffins out-shot the Moose 16-4, to finish the series with just five goals allowed on 106 shots.
The Griffins finished their playoff run with a 4-6 record and their first series victory in three years. The regular season champion Moose, who won a franchise-record seventh-straight playoff game, advance to the Western Conference Finals to face either Houston or Milwaukee.
The Griffins struck shorthanded for the game’s first goal at 14:33 of the opening period. Carrying the puck into the Manitoba zone along the left boards, Darren Haydar sent a pass across to Garrett Stafford, who quickly dropped the puck back to Jakub Kindl at the point for a blast that sailed into the top of Schneider’s net.
But a subsequent Grand Rapids penalty gave the Moose 31 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, an opportunity they used to knot the score at 15:48 when Jason Krog took a backdoor pass from former Griffin Mark Cullen and lifted a shot over Jimmy Howard from the bottom of the left circle.
The Moose grabbed the lead early in the second period when Guillaume Desbiens’ one-timer from the right circle beat Howard low to the stick side at the 1:19 mark. They extended their cushion to 3-1 less than five minutes later, as Cullen’s shot from the right circle found the back of the net during a power play at 6:15.
Howard stopped a breakaway chance by Jason Jaffray midway through the frame along with Jaffray’s shorthanded try during a 2-on-1 in the stanza’s final seconds, keeping his team’s deficit at two entering the second intermission.
The Griffins applied constant pressure in the third in a frantic attempt to claw back, finally scoring on their 12th shot of the period to pull within one. Playing in his first playoff contest, Brett Peterson circled around to the right of the Manitoba cage and sent a sharp-angle shot on net that Schneider denied, but Jamie Tardif crashed the crease to pop home the rebound with exactly seven minutes left. However, Grand Rapids could not pot the equalizer despite pulling Howard for an extra attacker with one minute remaining.
Five members of the Griffins will now join the Detroit Red Wings for their Stanley Cup Playoff run: Howard, Kindl, and forwards Justin Abdelkader, Aaron Downey and Ville Leino.
Three Stars: 1. MTB Schneider (W, 30 saves); 2. GR Tardif (goal); 3. MTB Cullen (game-winning power play goal, assist)