TORONTO – The Grand Rapids Griffins turned in their most dominant performance in a road playoff game in nearly 13 years on Friday, scoring at least twice in each period en route to a 7-0 win over the Toronto Marlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Ricoh Coliseum.
Petr Mrazek stopped 25 shots to post his second consecutive 7-0 victory, following last Saturday’s series-clinching win over Houston in Game 5 of the conference quarterfinals at Van Andel Arena. Mrazek became the first Griffin in history to record two playoff shutouts, much less consecutively, and backstopped the team to its first-ever shutout win in Game 1 of a series. He was supported by a prolific offense that saw 12 players record points, highlighted by three-point nights from Tomas Tatar (2-1—3), Chad Billins (1-2—3) and Francis Pare (0-3—3).
Prior to tonight, the Griffins had enjoyed only one road playoff win in their history by a margin of more than three goals, a 10-1 win at Cincinnati in Game 3 of the IHL’s Eastern Conference Finals on March 19, 2000.
The Griffins and Marlies will get right back at it for Game 2 tomorrow at 3 p.m., before the series shifts to Grand Rapids for as many as three straight games.
The story on this night could have been much different, as Grand Rapids had to withstand an early Toronto push during which the Marlies racked up seven shots before the Griffins fired their first on-target puck 6:49 into the contest. Minutes later, though, Grand Rapids scored twice in a span of 34 seconds to take a lead that they would maintain into the intermission.
Mitch Callahan struck first, winning a faceoff to the right of Drew MacIntyre before slashing through the slot to redirect Billins’ shot from the point at the 8:55 mark. Billins followed that up by scoring one of his own during a 4-on-4, ripping a shot past MacIntyre’s stick from the high slot.
Grand Rapids, which killed off all three Toronto power plays in the opening period, capitalized on its second chance just 1:14 into the second to take a 3-0 lead. From the left corner, Landon Ferraro threw a pass out front to a wide-open Tomas Jurco, who faked a shot before feeding Teemu Pulkkinen at the left post for an easy tap-in.
Tatar increased the visitors’ cushion to four with just 17.1 seconds left in the period. Alone to the right of MacIntyre, he tried a backhand that was denied before quickly banking a forehand shot off the back of the netminder’s legs and across the line.
Tatar scored again during a 4-on-3 power play 3:16 into the third, winning a battle for the puck along the end boards before skating out front and putting a shot inside the far post. When Luke Glendening tallied from the left of the net off a turnover at 5:48, it spelled the end of MacIntyre’s night.
Garret Sparks entered the game in relief and yielded a goal to Jan Mursak during a scramble around the net at 15:19. It marked the Griffins’ 14th unanswered goal of the postseason, shattering their previous record of 10 set from March 19-20, 2000.
MacIntyre, who allowed only five goals during Toronto’s three-game sweep of Rochester in round one, stopped 22 of 28, while Sparks made nine saves on 10 shots. Grand Rapids denied five Marlies power plays and scored on two of its six opportunities.
Notes: Including three wins in Toronto during the 2006 North Division Semifinals, the Griffins improved their all-time playoff record at Ricoh Coliseum to 4-0…The victory evened Grand Rapids’ all-time playoff record at 49-49, including 27-22 on the road…The Griffins won all four previous best-of-seven series in which they took Game 1.
Three Stars: 1. GR Mrazek (W, 25 saves, shutout); 2. GR Tatar (two goals, assist); 3. GR Billins (goal, two assists)