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HOMETOWN HEARTBREAKER

TORONTO – Matt Ellis’ second goal of the game, on a wraparound just 11 seconds into the second overtime, gave the Grand Rapids Griffins a 2-1 win over the Toronto Marlies and a four-games-to-one triumph in their North Division Semifinal series.

After Jean-Sebastien Aubin had an outstanding first overtime, helping the Marlies survive a 19-4 disadvantage in shots, Ellis grabbed the puck behind the Toronto net and beat Aubin to the right post to send the Griffins to the North Division Finals against either Manitoba or Syracuse. Manitoba currently leads that series, three games to two.

The Marlies struck first off a 2-on-2 rush during the game’s opening shift. Ben Ondrus sped down the right side and ripped a shot that Drew MacIntyre turned aside, but Alexander Suglobov gobbled up the juicy rebound in the left circle and threw it into the cage just 21 seconds into the contest. MacIntyre did not allow another goal over the game’s final 79:50, finishing with 41 saves to improve to 2-0 in the postseason with a 1.28 goals against average and a 0.961 save percentage (74-of-77).

Toronto was presented a with a five-minute power play at the 13-minute mark of the period when Terry Virtue hit Jay Williams in the left corner. Virtue was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct for checking from behind, bringing an early end to a night in which he tied Mike Hurlbut for 10th place on AHL’s all-time playoff games list at 95. However, his teammates buckled down and killed off the penalty, keeping it a 1-0 game at the first break despite the Marlies’ 13-5 advantage in shots.

After a scoreless second period in which the Griffins were again out-shot, this time by a 13-8 margin, Grand Rapids began the third period with fresh ice and a pair of early power play chances that went by the boards. But the Griffins nonetheless tied the score at 3:45 on a tremendous effort by local product Ellis, who played his junior hockey in Toronto for OHL St. Michael’s. After Clay Wilson’s shot from the left point was blocked out front, Ellis dove in the slot to get his stick on the puck and push it just inside the right post past Aubin, who found himself out of position after anticipating Wilson’s shot.

Soon after, at the 8:56 mark, Toronto was awarded a penalty shot when John Pohl was taken down by Bryan Helmer on a break. MacIntyre, however, made a glove save on Pohl’s subsequent attempt to preserve the deadlock, and the teams eventually headed for overtime for the second time in the series.

The teams traded power play chances in the first six minutes of the extra frame, the best chance for either side coming when Kent McDonell rang a shot off the post during the Griffins’ advantage. He drew another Toronto penalty during a break seven minutes in, but again Grand Rapids could not capitalize.

The Griffins improved to 8-1 in overtime this season, including a perfect 3-0 mark on the road. Grand Rapids is also 4-1 all time in playoff road games decided in overtime, and 5-2 away from Van Andel Arena when the opponent faces elimination. The Griffins earned their first playoff series victory since 2003 and their sixth all time, five of which – including the last four – have been clinched on the road.

Aubin, who finished with 43 saves, fell to 2-7 all time in the playoffs against the Griffins. He had finished the regular season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, going undefeated in regulation with a 9-0-2 record.


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