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THE BIG SMOKED


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In their quest to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Grand Rapids Griffins might prefer to play every remaining game against the North Division’s top team. The Griffins pounded the first-place Toronto Marlies for the second consecutive meeting and earned their season-high fourth straight home win in 7-1 fashion on Wednesday, in the process climbing above the 0.500 mark at Van Andel Arena for the first time this season at 15-14-1-2.

Darren Helm and Evan McGrath notched their first two-goal games as Griffins while Mark O’Leary also potted a pair in his AHL debut, helping Grand Rapids to its first seven-goal output in exactly two years. Helm, who also had two assists for his first four-point night, was recalled by the Detroit Red Wings after the game along with goaltender Jimmy Howard.

The fifth-place Griffins (27-31-2-5), who’ve dealt the Marlies their only two defeats by more than three goals this season, climbed within 11 points of idle Syracuse for the third playoff spot in the division. They’ll stay at home to host the Lake Erie Monsters at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

The Griffins jumped on top only 3:40 into the contest thanks to a tremendous effort by Helm. The speedy rookie burst into the Toronto zone, won a race to a loose puck at the top of the left circle and quickly snapped a shot past Justin Pogge. That goal, Helm’s fourth in the last five contests, extended his point streak to five games.

Grand Rapids took that 1-0 lead to the locker room before extending its cushion to three, scoring a pair of goals within a 30-second span early in the middle frame. McGrath netted his 10th of the campaign at the 2:03 mark, and the newly signed O’Leary sliced across the slot to redirect Tyler Redenbach’s blast at 2:33.

Pogge was relieved of his duties a minute later, marking an end to his disastrous week against Grand Rapids. He sported a 0-2 record, a 5.78 GAA and a 0.771 save percentage the last two Wednesdays versus the Griffins, after beginning his career with a 5-0 mark, two shutouts, a 1.50 GAA and a 0.957 save percentage in his first six clashes with Grand Rapids.

Scott Clemmensen entered in relief and was also greeted with hostility. McGrath cleaned up a scrum by popping the puck into the far corner of the net exactly halfway through the contest, then Garrett Stafford calmly walked in and roofed a shot during another power play at 14:22 to make it a 5-0 game.

When O’Leary tallied his second goal with 1:54 remaining before intermission, it gave the Griffins their first 6-0 advantage at home since a 7-0 win over Houston on Jan. 28, 2003, and their first six-goal lead in any game since a 6-0 victory at Syracuse on April 8, 2006.

The Marlies (38-18-3-5) finally beat Howard on their 27th shot of the night 4:09 into the third period, a power play goal from the high slot off the stick of Jay Harrison. But Helm notched his second goal on the power play at 12:54, providing the final margin and giving the Griffins a tidy 3-for-7 performance on the power play.

Howard finished with 34 saves to earn his 19th win of the campaign. Pogge surrendered three goals on eight shots to suffer the loss while Clemmensen made 11 stops on the night, as Toronto’s losing skid reached five games (0-4-1-0).


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