Griffins Alone in Third After Blanking 'Hogs
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Calvin Pickard weathered a storm to stop all 35 shots he faced, including 30 before Matt Puempel finally solved Collin Delia early in the third period, and the Grand Rapids Griffins earned a crucial 3-0 victory over the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday at a sold-out Van Andel Arena.
Rockford had authored its own home shutout over Grand Rapids by a 4-0 count on Friday to deadlock the teams in the Central Division standings, but the Griffins responded in kind to take over sole possession of third place with 14 games remaining on their schedule. Grand Rapids leads Rockford (by two points), San Antonio (three), Chicago (three), Texas (four) and Manitoba (eight) in a six-team race for the last two playoff spots in the division, with Milwaukee and Iowa all but having locked up the first two berths.
The Griffins (28-27-3-4) will host a potential playoff preview on Wednesday when second-place Iowa pays a 7 p.m. visit to the Calder City.
Following a scoreless opening period in which Pickard and Delia each turned aside nine shots, the IceHogs had a great chance to break the ice midway through the second when Evgeny Svechnikov was whistled off for four minutes after his stick caught Ian McCoshen on the head. But the Griffins allowed only three shots while killing off the double-minor, before also answering the bell when Turner Elson was sent to the box for tripping 34 seconds later.
Putting aside the missed opportunities of their only three power plays of the game, Rockford (29-30-1-2) tilted the ice throughout the middle frame, outshooting Grand Rapids 19-5 and firing 12 consecutive shots on Pickard over a stretch of six-and-a-half minutes.
Despite the disparity in shots, it was the Griffins who lit the lamp 3:49 into the third period. Dominic Turgeon won a faceoff in the left circle back to Puempel, who ripped a shot from the top of the arc to snap Delia's shutout streak against Grand Rapids over the last two nights at 103:07.
Pickard continued to stop everything on the other end, and when the Griffins were awarded their only power play of the game with 5:02 remaining, he got some breathing room in the form of a Chris Terry goal 48 seconds later. Taking a feed from Moritz Seider below the right circle, Terry threaded a pass toward Michael Rasmussen at the top of the crease, but the puck appeared to deflect off an IceHog and beneath Delia's right pad for a 2-0 lead.
Taro Hirose provided the icing on the night's cake at 16:37, backhanding home a rebound at the left post after Dominik Shine had driven the net hard. Pickard then only had to make one save over the duration to preserve his third shutout on the campaign.
Delia finished with 20 saves in the final meeting of the regular season between these two teams. The Griffins posted a 5-3-0-2 mark for the series, winning three of the last four and earning points in five of the last six.
Notes: The Griffins released defenseman Patrick McCarron from his pro tryout earlier today, returning him to the ECHL's Florida Everblades. He made his season debut in Grand Rapids' 4-2 loss at Texas last Saturday.
Three Stars: 1. GR Pickard (W, SO, 35 saves); 2. GR Puempel (game-winning goal); 3. GR Turgeon (assist)
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American Hockey League Stories from March 7, 2020
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