GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
In perhaps their most important period of the season, the Grand Rapids Griffins scored a pair of power play goals early in the final frame on Saturday and held on for a 3-2 victory over the Manitoba Moose in Game 2 of the North Division Finals at Van Andel Arena.
The best-of-seven series, tied at one game apiece, now moves to Winnipegs MTS Centre for the next three affairs, beginning with Tuesdays Game 3. The contest will be televised live by Comcast Local at 8:30 p.m. EDT.
The Moose controlled the opening period and drew first blood for the second straight night. Lee Goren circled out from behind the Grand Rapids net and fed a pass to Jason Jaffray, whose shot from the slot slipped through a sea of bodies and by the left post of Jimmy Howard at 8:14.
One of the Griffins best opportunities during the period came with four minutes remaining, when Brett Lebdas shot from atop the right circle eluded Wade Flaherty but clanged off the left post and deflected harmlessly away. On the other end, Manitoba had several more quality chances while out-shooting Grand Rapids 13-6 for the frame, but Howard was strong in limiting the damage to just one goal.
Five Moose minors in the first 4:51 of the middle frame gave the Griffins extensive power play time and the advantage they needed to tie the score. About a minute after a goal by Darryl Bootland was negated by a quick whistle, Kent McDonell threw the puck into the crease from the right corner, and it bounced off a Manitoba defender and into the net at the 7:11 mark.
Tied after two periods for the first time in these playoffs, the Griffins took their first lead of the series on a power play just 2:34 into the third. Valtteri Filppula carried the puck across the Manitoba line and into the high slot before being tripped up, but he still managed to steer the puck to Jiri Hudler, who pounded it home from the right side.
Grand Rapids increased its cushion to 3-1 during another man-advantage just 1:19 later, with Filppula connecting from the right circle on a dish from Terry Virtue. The Griffins third power play goal of the night tied a franchise playoff record, but Manitoba quickly halved the margin, as three-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Keane exploited a hole in the Griffins defense to pounce on a rebound on the doorstep at 7:48.
Manitoba tried desperately to tie the score, but lady luck and Howard were up to the task. After Goren shanked a try at an open net with eight minutes remaining, Howard made two great stops in sequence with five minutes left, then flailed to somehow keep a shorthanded Moose effort out of his cage in the final minute.
Howard was solid on the night, stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced, while his counterpart Flaherty finished with 25 saves.