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GRIFFINS EXORCISE PHANTOMS, 4-1

PHILADELPHIA – A big weekend for Philadelphia sports fans began with a dose of disappointment on Friday, as the Grand Rapids Griffins handed the Phantoms their worst home loss of the season, a 4-1 beating at the Wachovia Spectrum.

Following a 5-1 victory in Manitoba on Tuesday, Grand Rapids earned its second straight impressive road win against an AHL superpower, putting just the fifth regulation blemish on Philadelphia’s sparkling 17-5-2-2 home record.

The Griffins (23-21-1-1) will look to maintain their momentum on Saturday, when they visit Rochester for a 7:35 p.m. tilt against the Western Conference-leading Amerks. The game will be televised live throughout Michigan on Comcast Local.

After missing 28 consecutive games due to injury, Tomas Kopecky took all of nine minutes to make his impact felt in his return. From the right boards, Nathan Robinson sent a pass through the goal mouth to Kopecky, who undressed both a Phantoms defender and goalie Antero Niittymaki with a deft move and backhanded a shot into an empty net.

Minutes later, Ryan Barnes redirected a pass from the doorstep to give the visitors a 2-0 advantage at the 14:37 mark, a lead the Griffins would carry into intermission thanks to 12 saves by Joey MacDonald.

During a power play just 49 seconds into the middle period, Niklas Kronwall unleashed a one-timer from 55 feet that skidded along the ice past Niittymaki. Kronwall’s 11th goal, tops among AHL defensemen, gave the Griffins their second three-goal lead in as many road games.

That cushion would last only 2:14, as Randy Jones scored on a backdoor play during a Phantoms power play at 3:03. However, MacDonald would atone for the goal minutes later, making a diving, highlight-reel glove save on Ben Eager to keep it a 3-1 margin.

The Griffins killed off a five-minute high-sticking penalty to Blake Sloan midway through the second period, and MacDonald made another dozen saves in the final period to preserve the victory. Jiri Hudler accounted for the final margin, scoring into an empty net during a power play with 1:04 remaining.

MacDonald finished his fine performance with 36 saves, while Niittymaki stopped 24 in the loss.


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