GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Tomas Kopeckys goals in the waning minutes of the second and third periods propelled the Grand Rapids Griffins to their team-record 10th straight victory on Sunday, a 3-2 win over the Rochester Americans at Van Andel Arena.
The Griffins league-high 52 wins (52-16-1-4) mark the second-greatest haul in the franchises 10 seasons, one shy of the record set in 2000-01, and tie for the fifth-most in AHL history. Grand Rapids, which clinched home-ice advantage in the North Division semifinals with tonights triumph, needs five wins in its final seven games to tie the AHL record of 57 set by Binghamton in 1992-93. The Griffins will aim for no. 53 this Friday in an 8:30 p.m. start at Manitoba.
Rochester withstood a Griffins storm in the opening minutes, as on the same shift Jiri Hudler was unable to pot two tries into an open net and Kent McDonell rang a shot off the left post. Grand Rapids had several scoring chances during the first period most owing to McDonells hard work but the game remained scoreless at the break.
The visitors drew first blood just 1:30 into the second period. Stefan Meyer won a faceoff in the right circle over to Nathan Paetsch, whose wrister from the high slot sailed over Jimmy Howards right shoulder into the corner of the net.
Despite being out-shot by a 2-1 ratio midway through the game, the Griffins pulled even at the 10:27 mark on a tremendous effort by Matt Ellis, who knocked down Jean-Marc Pelletiers clearing attempt and lifted a point-blank shot over the netminder. His 20th goal of the season gave Grand Rapids a record seven snipers whove reached that milestone.
Just minutes later, an untimely no-call enabled the Amerks to break in on an odd-man rush. Rob Globke patiently waited before ripping a shot from the slot that bounced off Howard but fluttered into cage at 13:50 for a 2-1 Rochester lead. However, the hockey gods made amends for their transgression during a Grand Rapids power play with only 53 seconds left in the frame, when Kopeckys blast from the right boards deflected off a skate in the slot and past a helpless Pelletier.
Rochester (32-35-2-2), desperately seeking a win to keep its playoff hopes alive, looked to take the game to overtime until Kopecky netted the game-winner with 2:07 remaining, scoring on a slap shot from just inside the blue line.
Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Howard made 33 saves to extend his team-record winning streak to 11. While thwarted on his early efforts, Hudler earned an assist on Kopeckys game-tying goal to become just the second player in franchise history to reach the 90-point plateau (36-5490).