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02/28/2005 4:14 PM - Three Straight Division Wins Put Grand Rapids in Thick of Race

This Week’s Games
Wed., March 2 - St. John’s Maple Leafs at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Sat., March 5 - GRIFFINS at Chicago Wolves - 8 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM
Sun., March 6 - GRIFFINS at Milwaukee Admirals - 3 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Last Week’s Results
Fri., Feb. 25 - Milwaukee Admirals 2 at GRIFFINS 4 - 26-25-1-1, 54 pts. (5th, West Division)
Sat., Feb. 26 - San Antonio Rampage 1 at GRIFFINS 2 OT - 27-25-1-1, 56 pts. (5th)

Sun., Feb. 27 - GRIFFINS 3 at Cincinnati Mighty Ducks 2 - 28-25-1-1, 58 pts. (5th)

Back in the Fray: Fresh off their first three-game winning streak in nearly three months, the Griffins begin the week only two points out of a playoff spot in the West Division race. They trail fourth-place Houston by two points and third-place Cincinnati by eight, while possessing five games in-hand on the Mighty Ducks. Friday and Saturday marked the Griffins’ first back-to-back home victories since Nov. 28-Dec. 4, while Sunday brought their longest winning streak since a simultaneous four-game tear (Nov. 27-Dec. 4).

Canada Month: Wednesday’s contest against St. John’s marks the first of six straight games at Van Andel Arena (March 2-20) against visitors from Canada. In celebration, for all six games fans can purchase lower bowl tickets in the south end of the arena (normally $17) at the “Canadian exchange rate” of $10. The offer is valid only at the Van Andel Arena box office and The Zone, while supplies last. In addition, fans can register on the concourse to win a trip to Toronto, including round-trip train transportation and hotel accommodations, courtesy of Activa Travel. The finalists from the Griffins’ first five home games in March will compete for the prize at the game on March 20.

Fearsome Foes: The Griffins’ three opponents this week – St. John’s, Chicago and Milwaukee– stand third, second and first in their respective divisions and boast a cumulative 0.619 winning percentage. Following its last idle Friday of the season, Grand Rapids will kick off a three-day tour of the upper Midwest, culminating in next Monday’s rescheduled game against Houston at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Saturday’s game at Allstate Arena begins the Griffins’ busiest stretch of the season, as they’ll play six times in eight days from March 5-12.

Simply the Best: After battling the flu last Thursday, Joey MacDonald recovered to become the first goalie in Griffins history to record three wins in as many days. On Friday, he led the Griffins to a 4-2 victory over division-leading Milwaukee to move past Mike Fountain into first place all-time with 56 career wins. On Saturday, MacDonald stopped the last 30 shots he faced to help the Griffins win in overtime against San Antonio. As an encore on Sunday, he tied a personal best with his 22nd win of the season, as the Griffins broke the Mighty Ducks’ five-game winning streak and dealt them just their second regulation loss in their last 18 home games. Following his record-setting weekend, MacDonald now ranks as the Griffins’ career leader in games played (109), minutes played (6131:15), wins (58), shutouts (13) and saves (2,827).

Upward Trends: The Griffins posted a 7-4-0-0 record during February to earn their first winning ledger since November (8-3-1-0), and they’ve won four of their last six games at Van Andel Arena. Off the ice, the crowd of 10,061 that witnessed Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win against San Antonio was Grand Rapids’ largest since its opening-night sellout of 10,834 on Oct. 15.

Working Overtime: Thanks to Kip Miller’s goal 1:33 into the extra session on Saturday against San Antonio, the Griffins are now 3-1 this season and 19-7 all-time in regular season games decided during overtime. Miller had a fantastic week, logging three consecutive two-point games (3-3—6), scoring twice on the power play and assisting on Sunday’s game-winning goal in Cincinnati.

Welcome Back: After having missed 27 and 12 games due to injury, respectively, Kory Karlander and Ernie Hartlieb returned to action last Friday in the Griffins’ win over Milwaukee. Karlander’s return, in particular, foreshadows brighter things for the Griffins; they are now 20-7-1-0 (0.732) this season when he plays and 8-18-0-1 (0.315) when he does not. The team’s sick bay remains filled by Travis Richards (19 games), Eric Manlow (13) and Brent Kelly (11), although Kelly has resumed skating and is considered day-to-day.

Something Left in the Tank: With Sunday’s win at Cincinnati, the Griffins are now 4-1-0-0 this season when playing the final game of a three-in-three set.

Special Deliveries: After failing to score on the power play in six straight games and suffering a 0-for-27 drought, the Griffins scored on three of seven opportunities to finish their homestand. Meanwhile, Grand Rapids has allowed a power play goal in 10 consecutive games, surpassing the previous team record of nine set twice before (most recently, Nov. 23-Dec. 9, 2001). Opponents have converted 11 of their last 61 chances (18.0%) against the Griffins.

Kronwall Sets Record: With an assist on the game-winning goal in Cincinnati last night, Niklas Kronwall set a Griffins record for points in a season by a defenseman with 38 (11-27—38), surpassing the standard of 37 set by Aris Brimanis in 1998-99. The team’s leading scorer, Kronwall now needs just five goals (16 – Brimanis 1998-99) and three assists (30 – Travis Richards 2000-01) to tie the other scoring marks for Griffins blueliners.

Ellis’ Hard Work Paying Off: Following his game-winning goal on Sunday, Matt Ellis has registered points in eight of the last 11 games (4-6—10). He is tied for third on the team with 26 points (11-15—26), nearly double the production of his 2003-04 rookie season (5-10—15 in 64 games).

Rising Rookie: Eric Himelfarb is tied for the Griffins’ lead with 14 goals and ranks second with 31 points, tying for sixth on the team’s single-season rookie scoring list. Himelfarb could challenge the franchise’s rookie records of 55 points (Glen Metropolit, 1997-98) and 22 goals (Kevyn Adams, 1996-97), as he is on pace for 45 and 20, respectively.

Bring Out Our Best: The Griffins’ 4-2 win over first-place Milwaukee on Friday marked their second home-ice victory against the defending champs in eight days. As a result, Grand Rapids improved to 3-2-0-0 this season and 8-4-1-0 the past two years versus the Admirals.

By the Numbers: Where the Griffins rank among the AHL’s 28 teams in various statistical categories:
• Power Play: 40-for-276, 14.5% (19th)
• Penalty Killing: 261-for-308, 84.7% (13th)
• Penalty Minutes: 21.35 avg. (25th)
• Goals For: 2.40 avg. (23rd)
• Goals Against: 2.44 avg. (6th)
• Shots For: 29.69 avg. (18th)
• Shots Against: 30.25 avg. (15th)
• Attendance: 6,349 avg. (10th)

This Week’s Scouting Report

Wed., March 2 vs. St. John’s Maple Leafs (32-23-1-3) – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.

TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 6:59 p.m. Season Series: 1-2-0-0 Overall, 0-1-0-0 Home. Fourth of four meetings overall, second of two in Grand Rapids. All-Time Series: 4-2-1-0 Overall, 2-1-0-0 Home. NHL Affiliation: Toronto Maple Leafs. Head Coach: Doug Shedden (2nd season). Turning Leafs: The Leafs are 12 games over .500 at home but three games under (13-16-1-1) on the road…Their home power play is tied for fourth (20.6%) but their road PP ranks 27th (10.8%)…St. John’s allows the most shots per game in the league (34.90)…The Leafs begin the week on a five-game skid (0-4-1-0), all suffered on the road…Kyle Wellwood (25-39—64, T4th) and David Ling (21-41—62, 6th) place among the AHL’s top scorers.

Sat., March 5 at Chicago Wolves (33-19-4-2) – Allstate Arena – 8 p.m.
TV: None locally. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 7:40 p.m. Season Series: 3-5-0-0 Overall, 2-1-0-0 Road. Ninth of 10 meetings overall, fourth of five in Rosemont. All-Time Series: 34-23-4-1 Overall, 17-13-0-1 Road. NHL Affiliation: Atlanta Thrashers. Head Coach: John Anderson (8th season). Wolf Tracks: The home team has won the last two meetings after losing the first six…The Griffins scored a season-high six goals in the last meeting, a 6-3 win in GR on Jan. 21 that marked the most goals allowed by Kari Lehtonen during his North American career…Chicago owns a 20-6-3-1 record at home…The Wolves begin the week on a four-game winning streak and a six-game home point streak (5-0-0-1)…Their 3.10 scoring average ranks fourth…J.P. Vigier (22-33—55) is tied for 11th in AHL scoring…Defensemen Travis Roche and Greg Hawgood each have 38 points.

Sun., March 6 at Milwaukee Admirals (36-17-3-4) – Bradley Center – 3 p.m.
TV: None. Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 2:40 p.m. Season Series: 3-2-0-0 Overall, 1-0-0-0 Road. Sixth of eight meetings overall, second of four in Milwaukee. All-Time Series: 34-18-11-0 Overall, 13-10-9-0 Road. NHL Affiliation: Nashville Predators. Head Coach: Claude Noel (2nd season). Ships Ahoy: Former Admiral Mark Eaton scored the game-winning goal in the Griffins’ 4-2 win on Friday…Milwaukee’s lead over Chicago atop the West has shrunk to seven points…The Ads broke a five game drought (0-3-1-1) with Saturday’s 3-2 OT win over St. John’s…Simon Gamache ranks third in AHL scoring (23-46—69)…Brian Finley’s 27 wins tie for second.

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