03/31/2006 11:30 PM
WINNIPEG, Manitoba - The Grand Rapids Griffins claimed both the North Division and Western Conference regular season titles on Friday, courtesy of a 5-4 overtime victory against the Manitoba Moose at the MTS Centre.
Bryan Helmer's goal at 3:37 of the extra session extended Grand Rapids' franchise-record winning streak to 11 and marked the team's 53rd win of the season (53-16-1-4), tying the team record set in 2000-01. The Griffins earned their third division crown in five AHL seasons (Central in 2003, West in 2002) and their fifth in the last seven seasons overall, and reduced their magic numbers for winning the AHL's regular season championship to six points each over Portland and Wilkes-Barre.
Tomas Kopecky scored first for the Griffins at 10:49 of the opening period when he redirected the puck passed Maxime Ouellet off a shot Kyle Quincey feathered to the net. Late in the period, the Moose put heavy pressure on the Griffins net as Jimmy Howard was forced to make two saves from in close until Sven Butenschon jammed home the third opportunity.
The Moose dominated the first half of the second period as the Griffins fell to a 3-1 deficit. The tie-breaking goal came during a 2-on-1 break when Butenschon fed the puck across the goal mouth where Lee Goren blasted a shot past Howard at 6:42. Brandon Nolan added the insurance goal at 11:04 when he shot rebound over the goaltender from the right goal post. During the closing minutes of the period, Darryl Bootland sparked life into the Griffins with a one-timer from the doorstep over the glove of the netminder. The shot came off a leftwing corner feed from Valtteri Filppula.
The spark carried over into third period as the Griffins scored the equalizer at 8:10. Jiri Hudler darted towards the net and made a great move to pull Ouellet from position, but was denied and Eric Manlow rushed in to knock the fluttering rebound over the goal line. Hudler would set up Manlow once again with just over five minutes remaining to give the Griffins the go ahead goal.
Despite out-shooting the Moose 23-7 in the third period, Jason Jaffray lit the lamp with only 33 seconds remaining forcing overtime, making the game the fifth of seven meetings with the Moose this season to extend past regulation. Helmer gave the Griffins the victory in overtime off a rocket from the top of the right circle that blew over the shoulder of Ouellet. With the goal, Helmer has 53 points, tying Niklas Kronwalls single-season franchise record for defenseman set last season.
Hudler recorded three assists, giving him 57 and breaking a single-season franchise record (Picard, Nelson, 55, 1996-97). Jimmy Howard remained perfect through the month of March with an 11-0 record and has an overall personal win steak of 12 games. He and his teammates gear up for a rematch in the second game of their back-to-back set in Manitoba Saturday night slated for 8:30 p.m. EST.
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