GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Kent McDonells first AHL hat trick and a prodigious power play performance paced the Grand Rapids Griffins to their largest victory margin this season, a 7-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch at Van Andel Arena.
A Saturday night sellout crowd of 10,834, the Griffins fifth of the season, saw Grand Rapids continue its incredible run with its 11th win in 13 games (11-1-0-1) and its 17th victory in its last 21 outings (17-2-1-1). The Griffins (35-12-1-3), whove already matched last seasons totals of 19 wins at 41 points at home, improved to 23 games over 0.500 for the first time since the 2002-03 campaign. After maintaining their six-point lead over Manitoba in the North Division, theyll enjoy nearly a week off before hosting the Philadelphia Phantoms next Friday, Feb. 10.
Syracuse actually took the upper hand just 2:25 into the contest. Jimmy Howard overcommitted as Mark Hartigan sped down the left side, and the veteran center put on a move before popping a shot into the vacated cage. Things quickly went awry for the visitors, however, as McDonell, the former Crunch, answered with a pair of power play goals against former Griffin Martin Prusek to give Grand Rapids a 2-1 lead. He lifted a shot over Pruseks glove from low in the right circle at 4:33, then fooled him with a wrister from the top of the circles at 7:58.
The Griffins lethal power play struck for the third time in as many tries as the 16:32 mark, when Valtteri Filppula one-timed a Bryan Helmer pass through a sliver of daylight between Pruseks shoulder and the right post. The goal was the 200th for Grand Rapids this season, equaling the teams output from the entire 2004-05 season.
Grand Rapids scored its fourth and fifth goals early in the second period to blow the game open. McDonell completed his hat trick on a pretty play just 62 seconds in. Sprung by an outlet pass from Helmer, he swooped in from the right side and shifted to his backhand to slip the puck past Prusek. A turnover behind the Crunch net soon led to a 5-1 cushion, as Donald MacLean flipped the puck out to Eric Himelfarb, who blasted a shot from the high slot at 3:18.
Darryl Bootland accounted for the Griffins fourth power play tally of the night at 9:48, banging home a rebound from the left side to credit Helmer with his third assist of the game. In the third, Bootland became the teams career leader in penalty minutes with 785, and MacLean provided the final margin by scoring his AHL-high 34th goal with 2:59 left, tying the single-season franchise record with his 13th power play tally and matching another mark with his teams fifth power play goal of the night. MacLean now has points in 13 straight contests, the third-longest scoring streak in Griffins history.
Prusek, a First Team AHL All-Star with Grand Rapids in 2001-02, made his first appearance at Van Andel Arena since April 21, 2002, when he stopped 15 shots for the Griffins in a 4-2 loss to Chicago in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. He finished with 33 saves, while Howard earned the victory by turning aside 31 shots.
The alternate shield logo jerseys worn by the Griffins during the game were auctioned for charity afterwards. A total of $13,250 was raised for Bauer Elementary School, including a high bid of $925 for Bootlands sweater.