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GONE WITH THE WIND

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Ramzi Abid’s goal with 15.6 seconds left in overtime put a damper on the Grand Rapids Griffins’ New Year’s Eve festivities and enabled the Chicago Wolves to escape Van Andel Arena with a 4-3 victory.

Jimmy Howard made several outstanding stops late in regulation and another five in overtime, but his 27-save heroics could not prevent the Griffins’ six-game winning streak from being snapped in the first clash of the season against their long-time rival. Grand Rapids (24-10-1-2) suffered its first loss in its last five overtime decisions and saw its North Division lead shrink to four points over Manitoba, while Chicago (13-12-2-5) extended its point streak to seven games. After going 4-0-1-0 on their homestand, the Griffins will begin a three-game road swing Wednesday in Hamilton.

Wolves center Kip Miller, who is tied for fourth on the Griffins’ all-time scoring list with 136 points, burned his former team just 3:47 into the opening period, taking advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone to lead a 2-on-0 break. Miller held onto the puck before taking a point-blank shot that Howard initially stopped, but the goalie’s momentum carried him backwards and the puck somehow trickled across the goal line.

Chicago handed it back on a giveaway of its own at the 10:37 mark. Donald MacLean intercepted a pass inside the Wolves’ blueline, sprinted to the right hashmarks and ripped a shot into the upper right corner of Adam Berkhoel’s net. The goal was MacLean’s team-leading 20th of the season in just his 35th game played. The Griffins then used a power play to grab a 2-1 lead at 16:02. From the left corner, Valtteri Filppula feathered a pass across the top of the crease to a streaking Tomas Kopecky, who beat Berkhoel to the right post with an easy redirection.

In the second period, the Wolves tied the score at 2-2 when Brian Sipotz fired a pass from his own end up the gut to a breaking Pat Dwyer, who blew a wrister past Howard’s glove at 5:10. Grand Rapids answered less than three minutes later during an odd-man rush. From the left circle, Darryl Bootland sent a pass across to Matt Ellis, whose shot hit the right post but still managed to angle into the net at 8:05. Chicago would again knot the score before intermission, as Billy Tippetts set up shop in the left circle during a power play and beat Howard with a quick shot 2:40 before the break.

The Griffins’ fate was cast by Berkhoel’s fine 32-save performance and a 2-to-1 disadvantage in power plays. While each team could capitalize only once, the Wolves’ 10 chances helped keep Grand Rapids’ potent offense in check.

A crowd of 10,004 – the team’s largest New Year’s Eve throng since 1998 – saw the Griffins debut their second special jersey commemorating their 10th anniversary season. The sweaters, which feature the Griffins’ secondary shield logo as a crest, will also be worn during home games on Jan. 21 and Feb. 4 before being auctioned to the public for charity.

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