02/24/2013 5:30 PM
San Antonio Rampage 3 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 7
Feb. 24, 2013
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Chad Billins picked a fine time to record the first hat trick of his life.
With the Griffins having lost two straight and staring down a brutal schedule that will see them play 14 of 18 games on the road over the next six weeks, the rookie defenseman tallied three goals over the final 26 minutes on Sunday to lead Grand Rapids to a dominant 7-3 come-from-behind victory over the San Antonio Rampage at Van Andel Arena.
Billins, who had never scored a hat trick at any level of hockey, gave Grand Rapids a 4-2 lead by scoring twice late in the second period, then he capped off the night at 18:48 of the third to became the first defenseman in Griffins history to notch a hat trick at home. Logan Pyett, the only other Grand Rapids blueliner to score three goals in one game, accomplished the feat at Hamilton on Feb. 27, 2011.
Gustav Nyquist also had a three-point night with a goal and two assists, taking over the lead in the AHL’s scoring race with 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists), one more than Syracuse’s Tyler Johnson and former Oklahoma City Baron Jordan Eberle, now with the Edmonton Oilers. Nyquist totaled six points over this weekend’s two-game split with San Antonio, spearheading a Griffins attack that out-shot the Rampage by stunning margins of 46-23 tonight and 89-44 for the set.
Things did not start well for the Griffins, though, as the Rampage (24-25-1-4) built a 2-0 first-period lead for the second time in as many nights. In a play that was reviewed and ultimately confirmed as a goal, Zach Miskovic fired a shot from the top of the right circle during a power play that deflected off the crossbar and down, landing just beyond the goal line at 5:59. About six minutes later, Jon Rheault was awarded a penalty shot after being impeded by Gleason Fournier on a breakaway, and he beat Petr Mrazek with a backhand at 12:03, prompting coach Jeff Blashill to call his timeout to refocus his squad.
Brett Skinner put the Griffins (30-18-2-2) on the board with 1:22 remaining in the period, thanks mainly to Nyquist’s deft puck-handling. The winger grabbed the puck in the right corner and skated back to his blue line before driving down the slot and finding an open Skinner for a one-timer at the bottom of the right circle. With that assist, Nyquist joined Glen Metropolit (1997-99) as the only two players in franchise history to reach the 50-point plateau as both a rookie and a second-year Griffin.
The Griffins, who pounded away at Dov Grumet-Morris with 21 shots in the second period, scored on consecutive power play chances to claw on top by a 3-2 score. Francis Pare connected from the left circle for his 17th goal of the season at 11:33, and Billins collected his own rebound and beat Grumet-Morris from the right post just 2:53 later.
Billins then notched his second power play goal in less than five minutes at 19:23, only seven seconds after Jared Gomes was ushered off for hooking. Intercepting a pass at the point, he threaded his way into the left circle and sent a low wrister that snuck inside the far post, staking Grand Rapids to a 4-2 lead.
Nyquist recorded the Griffins’ fourth unanswered power play goal midway through the third when his blast from the point deflected off Grumet-Morris’ stick and over the goalie at 9:52, before Mitch Callahan converted a rebound at 16:17 to finish off a barrage and make it a 6-2 game.
Eric Selleck added a third goal for the visitors at 18:24, but Billins restored the four-goal cushion 24 seconds later, streaking down the right wing to tally his second unassisted goal of the evening and the hat trick.
Mrazek made 20 saves to improve to 17-8-1 on the season, while Grumet-Morris stopped 39 shots but surrendered an AHL career-high seven goals.
The Griffins, who increased their lead atop the Midwest Division to five points over Chicago, will play three road games in three nights next weekend, beginning with Friday's 8 p.m. EST visit to Milwaukee.
Notes: The Griffins’ four power play goals matched a season high established in their 11-6 win at Rockford on Jan. 19…Jan Mursak made his season debut with Grand Rapids after being assigned by the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, going scoreless with four shots and an even rating.
Three Stars: 1. GR Billins (hat trick); 2. GR Nyquist (power play goal, two assists); 3. Pare (power play goal, assist)