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Charlotte Checkers 1 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 2 SO

April 12, 2017

– Overcoming a 42-save performance by Tom McCollum in his first game against his longtime team, the Grand Rapids Griffins rallied for a 2-1 shootout victory over the Charlotte Checkers on Wednesday that clinched home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Griffins’ third-annual dog game saw both goaltenders provide purebred puck-stopping, as Jared Coreau countered with 23 saves and blanked the Checkers over the final 57:20 of play to secure no worse than second place for Grand Rapids in the Central Division standings. The Griffins are now tied with first-place Chicago at 96 points apiece but the Wolves have a game in hand.

Coreau and McCollum, who formed one of the AHL’s top tandems over the previous two seasons, combined to stop 65 of 67 shots over the course of 65 minutes before denying just three of eight in the shootout. Charlotte’s Valentin Zykov and Andrew Miller scored in rounds one and two but were answered by Evgeny Svechnikov and Matt Lorito. After two Checkers misses sandwiched an unsuccessful attempt by Alex Holmstrom, rookie defenseman Filip Hronek pulled up to freeze McCollum before slipping a forehand inside the right post for the game-deciding tally.

Charlotte, which is now tied with Cleveland in both points (84) and points percentage (.568) but owns the tiebreaker in their battle for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division, will stay in West Michigan for a 7 p.m. rematch on Friday in the Griffins’ regular season home finale.

The Griffins (45-23-1-5) came out firing against their old mate, launching seven shots at McCollum before the game was five minutes old, but it was the Checkers (39-29-5-1) who scored first at the 7:40 mark. Taking a pass along the boards near the left point, Andrew Poturalski embarked on a personal tour of the Griffins’ zone, stickhandling across the high slot, looping through the right circle to draw Coreau out of his net, then bursting behind the cage and emerging on the other side to lift the puck into the net before Coreau could get back into position.

A fortunate bounce enabled the Griffins to pull even 4:01 into the second. From the left corner, Mitch Callahan tried to send the puck around the end boards, but when it hit an odd break in the dasher and popped out front, Matthew Ford was waiting with a step on his defender to pop it into a gaping cage, as McCollum had moved across to the far post in anticipation.

The Griffins had three and a half minutes of uninterrupted power play time late in the period, including 30 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, but their reunited power play unit – which was on a league-record conversion pace before being decimated by injuries and callups to the Detroit Red Wings over the last several weeks – showed some rust and was unable to capitalize, keeping the game tied through 40 minutes.

The teams traded shots off the pipe during the scoreless final frame, with Ben Street hitting iron during a power play with under 13 minutes remaining and Poturalski’s bid for No. 2 bouncing harmlessly away with seven minutes left.

Ninety seconds into overtime, McCollum kept the Checkers alive by stoning a partial breakaway by Ford and gloving Kyle Criscuolo’s try off the rebound. Charlotte had its chance with 90 ticks left when Connor Brickley hit the post, and McCollum soon after made a diving stop on Holmstrom’s 2-on-1 finishing attempt to force the shootout.

Notes: After playing the last seven seasons with the Griffins (2009-16), McCollum stands as the franchise’s all-time leader in goalie games played (226), minutes (12,738) and saves (5,653) and ranks second in wins (103)…Charlotte, the only active AHL team with a winning record at Van Andel Arena, had its three-game winning streak in Grand Rapids snapped, losing here for the first time since Feb. 19, 2016.

Three Stars: 1. CHA McCollum (SOL, 42 saves); 2. GR Hronek (shootout-winning goal); 3. GR Ford (goal)