Despite loss, Griffins clinch playoff spot

ROCKFORD, Ill. — Landon Ferraro and Andrej Nestrasil each scored a pair of power play goals for the Grand Rapids Griffins, but they couldn’t manage to overcome Midwest Division opponent Rockford IceHogs as Grand Rapids fell 5-4 on Friday at BMO Harris Bank Center.

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Image courtesy of Grand Rapids Griffins

Despite the loss, the Griffins (41-20-2-4) still clinched a playoff spot due to other scores around the league. It was the first time since 2006-07 Grand Rapids qualified for the playoffs in consecutive years, and the first time it’s clinched in March since 2009.

The game closed out the Griffins’ season-high seven-game road trip, in which they went 4-2-0-1. They return to Van Andel Arena on Saturday for the second half of a home-and-home with the IceHogs (32-25-5-4) at 7 p.m. EDT.

The Griffins went up 2-0 early in the game when Ferraro scored a pair of power play goals within nine seconds of power play time.

His first tally at 7:48 came five seconds after Mathieu Brisebois went to the box for tripping. A faceoff win in the Rockford zone found Ryan Sproul at the point, and his shot was redirected by Ferraro in front of the net.

Brian Connelly was whistled for tripping at 8:50 and Ferraro took only four seconds to score on an almost-identical play, with the shot from the point coming at the hands of Nathan Paetsch.

Brad Mills cut Grand Rapids’ lead in half with 3:04 remaining in the opening period. Pierre-Marc Bouchard sent a pass from behind the net to Mills for the shot into the upper left corner of Tom McCollum’s net.

At 7:31 of the second period, the IceHogs scored a quick power play goal of their own. Just 19 seconds into their man-advantage, Adam Clendening one-timed the puck from the top of the left circle for the equalizer.

With 2:13 remaining in the period, Rockford took its first lead of the game when Brisebois wound up and let a rocket fly from just inside the right circle.

Clendening, the IceHogs’ leading scorer, solved the Griffins again 2:45 into the final period. Alex Broadhurst rushed McCollum’s net along the right wing side and swept the puck into an open area in front of the crease. A rushing Clendening was the first to get his stick on the loose puck, poking it into the back of the net.

At 4:10, another power play marker was scored four seconds into the power play, this time by Connelly. His slapshot from the right point during a Brennan Evans penalty extended the IceHogs’ lead.

The Griffins slowly started to dig out of its hole when Nestrasil scored twice in the final six minutes of the third period. During a five-on-three, Adam Almquist set Nestrasil up in the right circle for the one-timer at 14:25.

During another power play minutes later, McCollum was pulled from net for the two-man advantage and Nestrasil let a slapshot rip from the right point to pull the game within one at 17:48. His two goals extended his streak nine points to six games.

In the loss, McCollum stopped 28 of 33 shots. Jason LaBarbera made 23 saves as he backstopped the IceHogs to the win.

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