Down three goals in an elimination game for the second time in eight days, the Grand Rapids Griffins once again fought back on Wednesday to make it a 4-4 game after two periods at the Bradley Center. But a shorthanded goal by Darren Haydar just 21 seconds into the third proved to be the difference, as the Milwaukee Admirals advanced to the Calder Cup Finals with a 5-4 win and a four-games-to-none series victory.
Midway through the first period, the Admirals struck for two goals within a 30-second span to grab early control. During a power play, Simon Gamache ripped a shot from the top of the left circle inside the right post at 7:36, and Jordin Tootoo followed up by tossing a rebound past Jimmy Howard from the right faceoff dot at 8:06.
Following a Grand Rapids timeout and a bout between Tomas Kopecky and Scott May, the Griffins answered on Brett Lebdas first goal of the playoffs. After Pekka Rinne stoned Valtteri Filppula on a point-blank attempt, Filppula rounded the net to the right circle and sent a pass back through the slot to Lebda, who waited patiently for an opening before lifting a shot into the upper left corner of the net at 8:24.
A ridiculous disparity in penalties allowed the Admirals to push their advantage back to two goals at 3-1, as a Shea Weber blast through traffic during a 5-on-3 found the back of the net at the 14:20 mark. By the time the first period ended, Milwaukee had enjoyed 9:03 of power play time including a pair of two-man advantages totaling 1:37 while the Griffins were still awaiting their first power play of the night.
That gap grew even larger, as the second period started with 1:54 of carry-over power play time for the Admirals. When the game finally got back to even strength, the Griffins had been shorthanded for 10:57 of the games first 21:54. Grand Rapids finally received its first power play of the night at 3:48 of the middle period; unfortunately, it came 22 seconds after a breakaway goal by Upshall had increased the Admirals lead to 4-1.
Showing their character, the Griffins kept clawing, getting back within two at 10:54 when Darryl Bootland one-timed a Jiri Hudler feed out of the right corner past Rinne. Four minutes later, Bootland stole the puck in the left corner and quickly found Filppula alone in the slot. Filppula put a move on his Finnish countryman and slipped a backhand into the net at 14:39, making it a 4-3 game.
After May had been whistled off for a five-minute high-sticking major late in the period, Filppula netted the equalizer with just 1.3 seconds remaining, slamming home a Terry Virtue rebound from the bottom of the left circle and quieting the crowd of 3,900.
The Griffins began the third with a fresh sheet of ice and 2:53 of power play time, but Haydar scored the game-winner with a breakaway on the first shift, as the Admirals set an AHL record with their seventh shorthanded goal of the postseason.
Howard and Rinne finished with 37 and 23 saves, respectively. Each team tallied twice on the power play, although Milwaukee had three times the number of advantages (9 to 3).
Each of the final three games in the Western Conference Finals had a one-goal margin.