GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Donald MacLean slammed home his league-leading 29th goal of the season from the doorstep with 37.3 seconds remaining on Saturday, completing the Grand Rapids Griffins incredible 6-5 comeback victory over the Toronto Marlies at Van Andel Arena.
The Griffins fourth sellout crowd of the season was treated to a wildly entertaining, playoff-like contest, as the home squad twice rallied from two-goal deficits including a 5-3 hole early in the third period to break a three-game losing streak to its North Division rival. Grand Rapids (30-12-1-2), which claimed its 12th win in its last 15 games overall to maintain its four-point lead atop the division, will finish its six-game homestand on Wednesday against the San Antonio Rampage.
Torontos Brett Engelhardt scored just 34 seconds into the game, the only tally in an increasingly chippy period that was capped off by a fracas in front of the visitors bench that incensed both teams. The Marlies, subsequently presented with 69 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage early in the middle period, capitalized at the 1:33 mark. Toronto forced a flurry of shots around the Griffins cage, causing Jimmy Howard to fall backwards into his net and offer John Pohl an easy opportunity.
Down 2-0, the Griffins pulled even before the period was seven minutes old. Facing out from the top of the crease, Eric Himelfarb took a pass from Jiri Hudler, spun and whipped a shot inside the right post, solving Jean-Sebastien Aubin at 5:04. Just 1:55 later, Bryan Helmer unleashed a cannon from 50 feet, cleanly beating Aubin for his sixth power play goal.
The deadlock was short-lived, as the Marlies turned a Griffins turnover into an odd-man rush, a Colin Murphy goal and a 3-2 lead at 8:02. Toronto (22-18-3-0) then regained its two-goal cushion during a 4-on-4 situation 3:41 later, when a Kris Newbury shot caromed off Howard and trickled over the line. The Griffins kept fighting, however, and Tomas Kopecky made it a 4-3 game 2:10 before intermission. It was uncertain if his tip of a Derek Meech shot found the corner of the net or hit iron, but the referee emphatically signaled a goal, pulling Grand Rapids within one.
Jean-Francois Racine relieved Aubin between the Marlies pipes to start the third period, and the Griffins followed with a switch of their own to Joey MacDonald after Jeremy Williams scored from the high slot at 3:21, giving Toronto a 5-3 lead.
A fortunate bounce at the six-minute mark began the Griffins rally. Kent McDonells errant blast banged off both the end glass and the top of the net and back over the crossbar, where it bounced off Torontos Marc Moro and into the net as the goal was knocked off its moorings. Then, during a delayed penalty 37 seconds later, Meech tied the score at five on a shot from the left circle, igniting the throng of 10,834 and setting up MacLeans last-minute heroics.