Sevens Are Wild
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The Grand Rapids Griffins entered Wednesday with aspirations of clinching a playoff berth for a seventh consecutive season. They instead suffered their seventh straight loss, 7-3 to the Iowa Wild at Van Andel Arena.
Three weeks since their last victory, the Wild relied heavily upon a trio of players assigned from the NHL's Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. Reinforcements Ryan Donato (2-3-5), Luke Kunin (3-1-4) and Jordan Greenway (0-2-2) combined for 11 points to help Iowa (35-26-8-5, 83 points) snap its own eight-game skid and move into sole possession of fourth place in the Central Division.
The Griffins, who surrendered four straight goals after seizing a 1-0 lead in the game's opening minute, remain within a whisker of securing that elusive playoff spot. Either one point earned by Grand Rapids during its final two games or one point lost by either Milwaukee, Iowa or Manitoba over their remaining seven combined games would do the trick.
Still in second place in the Central Division, Grand Rapids (38-25-7-4, 87 points) will stage its regular season home finale on Friday when the Manitoba Moose pay a 7 p.m. visit.
The Griffins needed only 38 seconds to strike first. After Dominic Turgeon forced a turnover in the neutral zone, Turner Elson picked up the puck along the boards, sped down the left side, circled behind the Iowa net and stuffed a wraparound past Andrew Hammond. Elson's goal was his 18th of the season, establishing a new career high.
Grand Rapids carried the early play and would have padded its lead if not for Hammond holding down the fort, and the Wild's cavalry then teamed up to tie the game at the 11:04 mark. Off a Griffins giveaway, Greenway left the puck in the right corner for Donato, who centered a pass to a wide-open Kunin on the doorstep for the goal.
Kunin notched his second goal during a power play 3:41 into the second to put Iowa ahead, taking a pass at the right point and sliding down into the circle before ripping a shot through traffic and inside Patrik Rybar's far post. Louie Belpedio then put Grand Rapids into a two-goal hole during another Wild advantage at 11:52, threading a wrister from the point through a sea of bodies and into the top left corner of the cage.
Donato converted a breakaway chance with 48 ticks remaining before intermission to make it a 4-1 game, and Joe Hicketts received a boarding major and game misconduct 21 seconds later for a hit on Kyle Rau between the player benches, eventually leaving the Griffins shorthanded for three minutes and down a defenseman for the third period.
Grand Rapids staunched the bleeding and cut its deficit to two at 6:47 of that final frame when Dylan McIlrath's shot from the right boards caromed off Chase Pearson in the slot and eluded Hammond, giving the rookie two goals in his first nine pro games. But Kunin completed his hat trick just 40 seconds later, taking root in front of Rybar to redirect Brennan Menell's shot from the point.
The Griffins continued to fight, trimming Iowa's cushion to 5-3 with 6:34 remaining when Wade Megan slashed through the goalmouth to deflect Filip Hronek's feed, but Cal O'Reilly tallied Iowa's third power play goal of the night on a slap shot with 3:42 to go and Donato secured his fifth point by lighting the lamp with four seconds left to account for the final margin.
Following that shaky start, Hammond recovered to register 38 saves, while his counterpart Rybar made 18 for the Griffins.
Keyed by their third-ranked power play unit that finished the night 3-for-5, the Wild logged their fifth straight win at Van Andel Arena dating to last season. Grand Rapids' 29th-ranked power play went 0-for-3.
Notes: Donato's five-point night was the first by a Grand Rapids opponent since Abbotsford's Ryan Stone eight years ago (2-3-5 on April 8, 2011)...The last time the Griffins surrendered seven goals on home ice was Oct. 7, 2017 (2-7 vs. Manitoba)...The eight Griffins who were assigned by the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday combined for three assists.
Three Stars: 1. IA Kunin (hat trick, assist); 2. IA Donato (two goals, three assists); 3. IA Belpedio (goal, assist)
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