03/09/2013 8:35 PM
Lake Erie Monsters 1 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 2
March 9, 2013
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – For the second straight night, a sellout crowd and a strong defensive effort translated into a 2-1 win for the Grand Rapids Griffins, who followed Friday’s victory over Hamilton by beating the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday in front of 10,834 at Van Andel Arena.
An opportunistic second period in which the Griffins converted two Lake Erie turnovers into quick goals paved the way for their third straight win, their fifth victory in the last six games overall, and their seventh win in their last eight at home.
The first-place Griffins, who’ve registered consecutive sellouts for the second time this season (Jan. 25-26), improved to 34-19-2-2 and moved 15 games over 0.500 for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign, when they made their last Calder Cup playoff appearance.
After the Griffins weathered a first period in which Lake Erie enjoyed a 3-0 advantage in power play opportunities, their methodical play paid off 5:51 into the second. Mitch Callahan intercepted the puck in the Lake Erie zone and fired a shot from the right side was stopped by Calvin Pickard, but captain Jeff Hoggan was waiting in the slot to capture the rebound and slip the puck inside the left post.
A misplay by Pickard less than six minutes later turned into a 2-0 Griffins lead. The Monsters goalie wandered into the left circle to collect and clear the puck, but he put his pass right on the tape of a forechecking Louis-Marc Aubry, who immediately sent a shot into the vacated net at the 11:20 mark.
Hoggan had a chance to extend Grand Rapids’ lead when he was awarded a penalty shot with only 32 seconds remaining before intermission, but Pickard stood his ground to keep Lake Erie’s deficit at two through 40 minutes.
The Monsters finally solved Petr Mrazek on their 24th shot of the night 3:58 into the final period, when Thomas Pock’s laser from just inside the blue line sailed through a sea of bodies and past Mrazek to make it a 2-1 game.
Grand Rapids maintained that slim margin into the final minute, when Pickard departed for an extra attacker and the Monsters (27-25-2-7) mounted sustained pressure around the Griffins’ net. But after a flurry of saves and blocked shots, the weary Griffins finally cleared the zone and celebrated as the clock expired.
Mrazek stopped 27 of 28 shots on the night to push his personal record to 20-9-1, tying Jordan Pearce (20-15-5 in 2010-11) for the second-most wins ever by a rookie Griffin. He now stands seven behind record-holder Jimmy Howard, who went 27-6-2 during the 2005-06 season. Pickard, meanwhile, finished with 25 saves.
The Griffins will take aim at their third win in three days on Sunday, when they visit Hamilton for a 5 p.m. faceoff against the Bulldogs. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN 96.1 FM.
Notes: The Griffins’ sixth sellout of the season surpassed their total from the last two seasons combined (one in 2011-12, four in 2010-11) and are their most in any season since 2008-09 (six)…Grand Rapids has sold out five of its 10 home games since Jan. 25…The Griffins’ average attendance through 32 home games is 7,351, moving them past Lake Erie (7,331) into fourth place in the AHL and representing a 3.2% year-to-date increase over last season. Through 32 games in 2011-12, their average was 7,121, en route to a season-ending 7,253.
Three Stars: 1. GR Hoggan (goal); 2. GR Mrazek (W, 27 saves); 3. GR Aubry (game-winning goal)