GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Veteran goalie Wade Flaherty displayed the mettle that earned him Calder Cup MVP honors with Milwaukee two seasons ago, stopping 30 shots to backstop the Manitoba Moose to a 3-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday in Game 1 of the North Division Finals at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins will host Game 2 on Saturday at 7 p.m., before the series shifts to the MTS Centre for three straight games.
The Moose managed only a single shot on net in the first 10 minutes of the opening period, but Flaherty was marvelous in keeping the Griffins off the board. Following a turnover in the slot that created a three-on-none for Grand Rapids in front of the Moose cage, Flaherty stoned Nate DiCasmirro at the left post, then minutes later denied another chance in isolation on Darryl Bootland.
Flahertys thievery paid dividends at the 12:13 mark when Manitoba grabbed the 1-0 lead on its third shot of the contest. Mike Keane sent a shot from the right boards that was turned aside by Jimmy Howard, but an unmolested Mike Brown converted the rebound from the doorstep. The goal was Browns first in 30 games, dating to a shorthanded tally at Van Andel Arena on Feb. 14.
The Moose extended their advantage 3:23 later on a goal nearly identical to Matt Ellis series clincher in Toronto one week ago, as Josh Green collected the puck behind the Griffins net and beat Howard to the right post with a wraparound.
Grand Rapids, which twice rallied from a two-goal deficit to defeat Manitoba during the regular season, had a great chance to cut into the margin early in the middle frame. But despite being presented with 1:19 of a 5-on-3 power play, the Griffins were unable to generate much pressure in the Moose end. Soon after, Manitobas Jason King stole the puck in his offensive zone and quickly fed a pass across to Alexandre Burrows, who slipped a shot under Howard from the right side at 10:10 to make it a three-goal cushion for the visitors.
The Griffins finally lit the lamp 8:43 into the third, as Eric Manlow gathered the rebound of Terry Virtues shot in the slot and ripped a laser glove-side past Flaherty. Jiri Hudler also earned an assist, claiming sole possession of ninth place on the franchises all-time playoff scoring list with 14 points (3-1114) in 10 games. Grand Rapids had several opportunities to inch even closer, including a power play with 5:25 remaining, but Flahertys tending and four Griffins penalties in the final three minutes squelched any comeback chance.
Howard finished with 20 saves in falling to 2-2 on the postseason. All time, the Griffins have rallied to win two of the six best-of-seven playoff series in which they lost Game 1.