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03/28/2005 12:00 AM - Grand Rapids Has Won 5 of 6 and 7 of 9 to Bolster Playoff Hopes

This Week’s Games
Tue., March 29 - Cleveland Barons at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. - Comcast Local/WOOD 1300 AM

Fri., April 1 - Utah Grizzlies at GRIFFINS - 7:30 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM/WHTC 1450 AM

Sat., April 2 - Utah Grizzlies at GRIFFINS - 7:30 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Sun., April 3 - GRIFFINS at Hamilton Bulldogs - 4 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Last Week’s Results
Wed., March 23 - GRIFFINS 4 at Milwaukee Admirals 3 OT - 34-29-2-1, 71 pts. (5th, West Division)

Fri., March 25 - GRIFFINS 3 at Houston Aeros 2 SO - 35-29-2-1, 73 pts. (5th)

Sat., March 26 - GRIFFINS 2 at San Antonio Rampage 1 - 36-29-2-1, 75 pts. (T4th)

Sun., March 27 - GRIFFINS 2 at Houston Aeros 3 - 36-30-2-1, 75 pts. (5th)

A Whole New Game: After briefly nudging into fourth place in the West Division on Saturday with their fifth straight victory – their first such streak since a season-opening 5-0 run - the Griffins fell back outside the playoff picture with Sunday’s 3-2 loss at Houston. Still, Grand Rapids, winner of seven of nine entering the final three weeks of the AHL regular season, trails the Aeros by just two points with a game in hand and the games-won tiebreaker in its favor. The Griffins also stand just two points behind Cincinnati with two games remaining against the Ducks. Grand Rapids, which had erased a seven-point deficit to the Aeros during an eight-day span (March 19-26), went 3-1-0-0 last week while playing four road games in five days.

Home Sweet Home: The Griffins, winners of three of four and five of their last eight (5-2-1-0) at Van Andel Arena, return home for three games this week. Tuesday’s game against Cleveland, which will be televised live throughout Michigan on Comcast Local, will feature a “Wedding on Ice.” Steve Wegleitner and Jodie Larson will exchange their vows during the second intermission before Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and thousands of fans. For Friday’s “Night of Thunder” against Utah, all motorcycles will receive free parking in the “Wild Boar Harley-Davidson Bike Corral” behind the arena. Fans can purchase a Subway Four Pack, register to win a shot at a new Hyundai Santa Fe, and get autographs from Griffins players after the game. During Saturday’s rematch with the Grizzlies, dogs from the Kent Animal Network will be available for adoption, and the first 1,500 fans will receive a Griffins dog dish.

Three’s Company: Grand Rapids, Houston and Cincinnati are separated by only two points in a tight West Division race, with just two playoff berths to be earned among them. The Ducks have the home-ice advantage with six of their 11 remaining games at home, while the Griffins face the easiest schedule:

Team – Points - Games Left - Opponents’ Win. %
Cincinnati – 77 - 11 (6 home, 5 road) - 0.537
Houston – 77 - 10 (5 home, 5 road) - 0.470
Grand Rapids – 75 - 11 (5 home, 6 road) - 0.443

For the Record: Grand Rapids is 12-8-1-0 (0.595) since former assistant Greg Ireland was named head coach on Feb. 10, including an 11-5-1-0 record since Feb. 25.

Rare Air: With Saturday’s win at San Antonio, Joey MacDonald became the fourth goalie in franchise history to earn 30 wins in a single season. He tied Pokey Reddick (30 in 1996-97) and moved within striking distance of both Marc Lamothe (33 in 2002-03) and record holder Mike Fountain (34 in 2000-01). Thanks in large part to MacDonald’s efforts, the Griffins are now tied for second in the AHL with 20 road wins (20-13-0-1), marking the third straight season and fifth time in the last six campaigns that they’ve claimed at least 20 victories on foreign ice.

Busy Boys: The Griffins will play 11 games over the final 20 days of the 2004-05 regular season, beginning with tomorrow’s home contest against Cleveland.

Three For All: This Friday’s game against Utah begins the ninth of 11 “three-in-threes” that the Griffins will play this season. They are 14-10-0-0 when playing three games in as many nights, including a 5-3-0-0 record in the third game.

Simply the Best: Last night, Joey MacDonald pushed his franchise-record games played streak to 24 while making his record 17th consecutive start. (Mike Fountain had held both marks with 15 straight starts in 2000-01.) His five-game winning streak that ended with the loss to Houston was one shy of his personal best, while his 47 saves on Friday against the Aeros fell one short of his Griffins high (48, 11/14/03 at MIL). Grand Rapids’ all-time leader in games played (123), minutes played (6956:54), wins (66), shutouts (13) and saves (3,245), MacDonald has already claimed the Griffins’ single-season mark for saves (1,621) and is challenging the standards for games played (MacDonald 59, record 61), minutes played (3371:25, 3438:09), wins (30, 34), shutouts (4, 6) and save percentage (0.928, 0.936).

The More the Merrier: Following Joey MacDonald’s season-high 47-save performance on Friday at Houston, the Griffins are 5-0-0-1 this season in games in which the AHL All-Star has made 40 or more stops. All six efforts have come on the road, including a 5-1 win at Chicago on Oct. 16 (46 saves), a 3-2 shootout loss at Cleveland on Dec. 22 (41), a 4-3 shootout win at Houston on Jan. 23 (46), a 4-3 victory at Chicago on March 19 (42), and a 4-3 overtime win in Milwaukee last Wednesday (44).

Blueline Blue Blood: Griffins leading scorer Niklas Kronwall has points in eight of the last 10 games (1-9—10). His 49 points (12-37—49) – which tie for the AHL lead among defensemen - and 37 assists are already records for a Grand Rapids blueliner, and he needs four more goals to tie Aris Brimanis’ standard (16).

When You’re Hot, You’re Hot: Tomas Kopecky has goals in five of the last eight games (5-1—6). He tallied Wednesday’s overtime winner in Milwaukee, scored the deciding shootout goal Friday in Houston, notched the game’s first goal Saturday in San Antonio, and scored again Sunday in Houston…Kip Miller owns a five-game assist streak (0-6—6) and has points in 12 of the last 17 contests (4-12—16).

Center of Attention: Matt Ellis, who on March 20 tied a franchise record with his fourth shorthanded goal of the season, continued his timely contributions during Friday’s crucial 3-2 shootout win at Houston, forcing overtime by scoring with just 28 seconds left in regulation. Ellis has registered the first assist on three of the Griffins’ six overtime goals this season and shows points in 16 of the last 25 games (11-11—22). He ranks second on the team in both goals (18) and points (38), more than doubling the production of his 2003-04 rookie season (5-10—15).

Manlow Among Boys: After sitting out 18 straight games due to injury, Eric Manlow has returned to the Griffins’ lineup in style. The team’s leading goal scorer with 19, he has lit the lamp five times and has points in five of nine games (5-2—7) since his return to the lineup on March 11.

Climbing the Charts: Last night, Ryan Barnes became the ninth Griffin to appear in 200 regular season contests…During that game, Kip Miller notched an assist for his 1,000th pro point. He needs two goals to tie brother Kevin (47) for ninth place on the Griffins’ all-time goals list…Peter Vandermeer’s goal last Wednesday in Milwaukee was his 100th as a pro.

League Leaders: Joey MacDonald stands among the league’s top goalies with a 2.24 GAA (10th), a 0.928 save percentage (T8th), 30 wins (4th), 3,371:25 minutes played (2nd) and 1,621 saves (2nd)…Niklas Kronwall places among the AHL’s top blueliners with 12 goals (T3rd), 37 assists (T3rd) and 49 points (T1st)…Eric Himelfarb ranks among the circuit’s top rookies with 15 goals (T6th), 33 points (T11th), seven power play goals (T5th) and two shorthanded goals (T2nd)…Peter Vandermeer (293 PIM) and Darryl Bootland (291 PIM) rank third and fourth, respectively, in sin-bin time.

First Time for Everything: Raymond Giroux’s successful penalty shot against Joey MacDonald during Friday’s win over Houston was the first such goal allowed by the Griffins in their nine-year history (seven attempts).

Deuce in the Hole: Friday night in Houston, the Griffins rallied from a 2-0 deficit (and a 30-7 disadvantage in shots) after two periods to take a 3-2 shootout win, marking the second time in seven days that they won after trailing 2-0. Prior to rallying from a 2-0 hole to take a 4-3 win at Chicago on March 19, the Griffins had lost the previous 18 games in which they had fallen behind 2-0 and the last 23 games in which they had trailed by two goals at any point. Grand Rapids’ last win in either scenario had been a 5-4 victory at St. John’s on Dec. 8.

Shootout Stories: The Griffins improved their shootout records to 6-1 this season and 42-46 all time with Friday’s 3-2 triumph at Houston. For the year, Griffins shooters have scored on 15 of their 33 shootout attempts (45.5%) – the second-best conversion rate in the AHL - while Joey MacDonald and Drew MacIntyre have turned away 27 of the opposition’s 35 shooters (77.1%), the league’s third-best mark. After denying five of six tries on Friday, MacDonald has stopped 23 of 30 shootout attempts (76.7%) for the season.

Overtime Pay: Following Grand Rapids’ 4-3 overtime win at Milwaukee on Wednesday, the Griffins are 6-2 this season and 22-8 all time in regular season games decided during overtime. Tomas Kopecky became the sixth different Griffin to score in O.T. this season, joining Blake Sloan, Darryl Bootland, Kip Miller, Eric Manlow and Jiri Hudler. Five of Grand Rapids’ last 16 games (4-1) have been decided during the extra session.

This Week’s Scouting Report

Tue., March 29 vs. Cleveland Barons (31-31-2-6) – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.

TV: Comcast Local (ch. 23 in GR). Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 6:59 p.m. Season Series: 4-2-0-1 Overall, 2-1-0-0 Home. Eighth and final meeting overall, fourth and final in Grand Rapids. All-Time Series: 12-8-0-1 Overall, 7-3-0-0 Home. NHL Affiliation: San Jose Sharks. Head Coach: Roy Sommer (4th season). Spy Glass: Cleveland sits in sixth place in the North Division but is just four points out of a playoff spot…The Barons, 8-4-1-2 in their last 15, are 1-2-0-1 in their last four road contests…After three straight losses to Cleveland, Grand Rapids took a 4-0 decision at Gund Arena in the last meeting on Jan. 9…Niklas Kronwall has averaged a point per game against the Barons (1-6—7)…Joey MacDonald (2-1-1, 1 SO, 1.44 GAA, 0.958%), Drew MacIntyre (2-1-0, 1 SO, 1.34 GAA, 0.949%) and Cleveland’s Nolan Schaefer (2-2-0, 2 SO, 1.76 GAA, 0.944%) have excelled in the series.

Fri., April 1 vs. Utah Grizzlies (19-45-1-4) – Van Andel Arena – 7:30 p.m.
Sat., April 2 vs. Utah Grizzlies – Van Andel Arena – 7:30 p.m.

TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM (both nights)/WHTC 1450 AM (Fri. only) at 7:10 p.m. Season Series: 2-2-0-0 Overall, 1-1-0-0 Home. Fifth and sixth of eight meetings overall, third and fourth of four in Grand Rapids. All-Time Series: 22-23-3-0 Overall, 14-9-1-0 Home. NHL Affiliation: Phoenix Coyotes. Head Coach: Pat Conacher (1st season). Grin and Bear It: The Grizzlies’ 19 wins are tied for the fewest in the AHL, and their 6-24-0-2 road mark is the league’s second-worst…Utah has lost three straight and is 1-3 in its last four road outings…After winning the first two meetings this season, the Griffins have dropped two in a row to the Grizzlies, including a 5-2 decision at Van Andel Arena on Feb. 11, Greg Ireland’s first game as Grand Rapids’ head coach…Utah has enjoyed more success than any team this season against Joey MacDonald, who is 1-1 with a 4.04 GAA and a 0.875 save percentage versus the Grizzlies.

Sun., April 3 at Hamilton Bulldogs (31-27-7-5) – Copps Coliseum – 4 p.m.
TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 3:40 p.m. Season Series: 1-2-0-0 Overall, 0-1-0-0 Road. Fourth and final meeting overall, second and final in Hamilton. All-Time Series: 8-4-1-0 Overall, 4-2-0-0 Road. NHL Affiliations: Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars. Head Coach: Doug Jarvis (2nd season). Dog Eat Dog World: The Dogs hold down fourth place in the North Division, just two points ahead of Syracuse and four ahead of both Cleveland and Edmonton…Hamilton is 4-1-1-0 in its last six games…After surrendering five goals to the Bulldogs in each of their first two meetings this season, the Griffins rebounded with a 4-1 home win on March 12…Rookie Corey Locke (1-3—4) and goalie Yann Danis (2-0, 1 SO, 1.00 GAA, 0.964%) have enjoyed success against Grand Rapids…Six of the Dogs’ 11 series goals have come on the power play (6-25, 24%)…The Griffins have converted one of 13 chances (7.7%) against Hamilton.

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