A contentious battle erupted in an otherwise benign divisional match-up in the Griffins final regular season road game 160 combined penalty minutes later, Grand Rapids dropped a 6-4 decision in Rochester Sunday.
Fresh from a one-game stint with the Detroit Red Wings, first-year center Valtteri Filppula became the eighth different Griffin to reach the 20-goal plateau this season far and away a club record. He keyed the teams first goal taking a Tomas Kopecky dish at the blue line and delivering a cross-ice pass to Darryl Bootland, who received the puck in full stride for a quick maker at 1:26 of the first. Filppula also extended his team-leading point streak to six games on the score.
Mark Mancari tied the score for the Amerks on a controversial play with 1:52 remaining in the first. Jimmy Howard vehemently protested the goal judges ruling, much to the chagrin of opposing goaltender Michael Leighton who was feeling froggy enough to challenge Howard to a duel at center ice. Howard obliged, and a rarely-seen fight between the goalies ensued. When the fog of war lifted, six players three per side earned five minute fighting majors and game misconduct penalties. Howard, Bootland, and defenseman Terry Virtue were dismissed for the day for the Griffins; Leighton, forward Greg Jacina, and defenseman Martin Tuma were ejected for Rochester. Pressed into action, Logan Koopmans made his AHL debut in relief for Grand Rapids. Jean-Marc Pelletier relieved Leighton for the Americans.
Eric Himelfarb then jumped on a power play rebound from a Jiri Hudler shot in the crease. His tenth goal of the season reclaimed the lead for Grand Rapids with just 21 seconds remaining in the period. Kopecky contributed to another Griffins strike early in the second, as Clay Wilson corralled a rink-wide pass and beat Pelletier from the point for a 3-1 lead at 4:43.
The Amerks cashed in with one second remaining in a 5-on-3 advantage on a David Cullen goal at 8:12 of the second. Just 45 seconds later, skating four-aside, Rochester tied the score at three as a shot deflected in off the leg of Daniel Paille. Filppula later garnered a goal of his own, as Grand Rapids again wrested back the lead with under a minute left in the frame.
Rochester dominated the third period, posting three unanswered goals from Jiri Novotny, Clarke MacArthur, and Kamil Kreps. The Griffins squandered a 3-1 lead for the second time in three games, the last a 6-5 loss in Cleveland on Wednesday.
The Griffins stand at 54-19-1-4, good for an AHL-best 113 points, and conclude the regular season with back-to-back weekend home games at Van Andel Arena: a Friday night face-off against the San Antonio Rampage, and a Saturday night finale against West Division-leading Milwaukee. Both games start at 7 p.m.