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THE COMEBACK KIDS



HOUSTON – A showdown of division leaders in the Western Conference lived up to its billing, as the Grand Rapids Griffins mounted an inspired and relentless comeback to edge the Houston Aeros 6-5 at the Toyota Center Friday night.

Penalties again proved costly early for the Griffins, as Peter Olvecky opened the scoring on the first power play opportunity for the Aeros by following up a big rebound on a shot from Erik Reitz at 4:29 of the first to give Houston a 1-0 lead. A point shot by Curtis Murphy deflected off of the stick of a Griffin defender at 12:27 to extend the Houston advantage to two; Matt Foy’s hard work paid off just moments later as he delivered a precise centering pass despite being leveled behind the net, resulting in an easy put-away for Rem Murray and a 3-0 Aeros edge at the end of one.

Darryl Bootland led a furious second period charge by the Griffins, cashing in with his tenth goal at 11:49 by redirecting a Clay Wilson shot from the left point to cut the deficit to 3-1. After being out-shot 20-7 in the first, Grand Rapids turned the tables with a 20-7 shot advantage in the middle stanza. Houston withstood the charge, however, answering with a Petr Taticek goal on a feed from AHL assist-leader Erik Westrum (36) to push the Aeros lead back to 4-1 heading into the third.

The Griffins battled back again with a power play strike to begin the third period. Tomas Kopecky buried a shot from an impossible angle on the right goal-line; his 12th goal of the season making it a 4-2 game. Grand Rapids was then awarded a bonanza of 5-on-3 time as the Aeros came unglued, drawing five consecutive penalties in the final frame with a breathtaking lack of discipline.

Grand Rapids took full advantage, unleashing a flurry of goals to storm back and take an improbable 5-4 lead. A blue-line lamp-lighter from Bryan Helmer (7), followed by two strikes by Jiri Hudler (19,20) helped provide the go-ahead margin.

Matt Foy countered with the equalizer on another Houston power play after a fortunate bounce out in front at 11:26. But Valtteri Filppula delivered the death knell on a give-and-go from Bootland with just 2:17 remaining to seal a historic 6-5 come-from-behind victory for Grand Rapids. Their five power-play goals in the third period set a new team record.

The Griffins look to build on an emotional win against the Rampage in San Antonio Saturday night. Face-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. Grand Rapids maintains a three-point lead over the Manitoba Moose for first place in the North Division, with both teams through 39 games.


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