GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Ramzi Abids goal with 15.6 seconds left in overtime put a damper on the Grand Rapids Griffins New Years 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 goalies 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 Berkhoels net. The goal was MacLeans 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 Howards 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 Berkhoels 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 teams largest New Years 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.