Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 2
March 2, 2018
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In their first West Michigan appearance in more than nine years, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins scored three times in the third period on Friday to waddle away with a 4-2 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins.
After Garrett Wilson tied the score at 2-2 with a power play goal early in the final frame, Teddy Blueger capitalized on a turnover in the slot to pot what turned out to be the game-winning goal before Wilson tallied into an empty net in the final minute.
The Griffins, who were held to a season-low 19 shots, suffered just their second regulation loss in the last 16 games (12-2-0-2) and their fifth in the last 29 (21-5-0-3), falling to a Penguins squad that owns the fourth-highest points percentage in the AHL at .657.
Grand Rapids (31-20-1-6) will close out its homestand on Saturday by hosting the Milwaukee Admirals at 7 p.m., marking the Griffins’ sixth home game in a span of 11 days. They will then play only six of the season’s final 17 games at Van Andel Arena.
Matt Puempel, who scored seven goals in 16 games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during his five seasons as a Binghamton Senator (2011-16), renewed acquaintances with his old foe by lighting the lamp 1:43 into the opening period. Ben Street chased down the puck in the right corner and immediately threw it out into the slot, where it glanced off the stick of Eric Tangradi on its way to a trailing Puempel, who hammered it past Anthony Peters.
The Griffins momentarily appeared to have doubled their lead during a power play at the 8:14 mark when Puempel’s blast from the left point found the back of the net. But the goal was immediately waved off by the referee, who ruled that Tangradi had made accidental contact with Peters while staking his ground atop the crease. The Griffins unsuccessfully argued that defenseman Kevin Czuczman had checked Tangradi into the netminder as the pair tussled for position.
The Penguins (33-16-4-1) answered early in the second period, as Adam Johnson circled behind the net before slipping a sharp-angle shot past Tom McCollum from the bottom of the right circle at 2:04.
Grand Rapids reclaimed the lead during a power play midway through the frame thanks to the crease-disturbing prowess of Tangradi, who split his first four pro seasons (2009-13) between the Baby Pens and Pittsburgh. Puempel launched a shot from the top of the left circle that Tangradi tipped inside the far post at 11:10 for his team-leading 25th goal of the season, an AHL-high 16 of which have come since Jan. 1.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton again knotted the score, 3:22 into the third in a near-replica of Tangradi’s tally. The Penguins used their own man-advantage to perfection, with Czuczman taking a shot above the left circle that a screening Wilson redirected into the right corner of the net.
A turnover in front of the Griffins’ net turned into the ultimate game-winner for the Penguins during a 4-on-4 at the 7:58 mark. Matthew Ford couldn’t handle Colin Campbell’s pass from below the goal line, and a forechecking Blueger was there to pounce on it and put his own rebound past McCollum from the doorstep.
McCollum, who stopped 25 of 28 shots, headed to the bench in lieu of an extra attacker in the waning minutes, enabling Wilson to record his second goal of the night into the vacated cage with 41 seconds remaining.
Peters made 17 saves in the win.
Notes: The Griffins celebrated their seventh annual Purple Community Game, with proceeds from a post-game auction of their purple jerseys benefiting the Van Andel Institute...The last time the Penguins visited Van Andel Arena – a 3-2 shootout win for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Nov. 21, 2008 – George W. Bush was in the final months of his presidency and the Griffins’ lineup included now-veteran Detroit Red Wings Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm, who scored both of Grand Rapids’ goals.
Three Stars: 1. WBS Blueger (game-winning goal, assist); 2. GR Tangradi (power play goal, assist); 3. GR Puempel (goal, assist)