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IRELAND'S EYES ARE SMILING

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins earned their fourth come-from-behind victory in six days on Friday at Van Andel Arena, besting the Cleveland Barons by a 3-2 count in a 109-penalty-minute battle of attrition.

Nate DiCasmirro and Darryl Bootland each had a goal and an assist, and Jimmy Howard stopped the 12 shots he faced in relief to help the Griffins eclipse the 100-point mark for the fourth time in franchise history. At 48-16-1-4 (101 pts.), they tie a team record by improving to 32 games over .500 and maintain their 15-point lead atop the North Division.

The Griffins, winners of nine of their last 10 games, will put a six-game winning streak on the line on Saturday, when they host the Toronto Marlies in a likely preview of a first-round Calder Cup Playoff matchup.

The Barons began the night by scoring on two of their first five opportunities against Joey MacDonald. From the right side, Craig Valette banged home the surprising rebound of a soft trickler at 10:06, and Aaron Power followed up on a slapshot from the left circle during a power play just 3:01 later.

Grand Rapids got on the board with only 16.4 seconds left in the period when DiCasmirro crashed the net to clean up the rebound of a Brett Lebda shot. As the Griffins began to celebrate, Bootland was jumped by a pair of Barons, instigating a St. Patty’s Day donnybrook that resulted in a game misconduct to Cleveland’s Matt Carkner.

MacDonald, injured during a first-period collision, was relieved at the start of the second by Howard, who promptly made a tremendous post-to-post save to keep the Griffins within one. Continued roughhousing – which included another Barons game misconduct, to Tim Conboy - resulted in Grand Rapids being awarded a five-minute major, but the Griffins were not able to capitalize despite a bevy of scoring chances. Bootland, however, ensured that the next power play chance would not go to waste, scoring at 15:12. After Tomas Kopecky drew a crowd by driving the slot, Bootland collected a loose puck and flipped a backhand into the vacated cage of the plucky Schaefer, who would finish with 39 saves.

The Griffins took the lead just 51 seconds into the third period on a wraparound by Matt Ellis, then shortly after gave themselves an emotional boost by killing off two full minutes of a 5-on-3 Barons power play. The defense kept the door shut the rest of the way to eliminate Cleveland from postseason contention, as Howard became the first Griffins rookie to earn 20 wins (20-4-2). He has now won seven straight games, one shy of Mike Fountain’s franchise record, and has led Grand Rapids to points in 18 of his last 19 decisions (16-1-1-1).

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