GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Jeff Hoggan set up the game-winning goal with 4:49 remaining and scored an insurance tally with 2:28 left to put the Grand Rapids Griffins within one win of a Calder Cup championship.
Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch – the Griffins’ fourth straight and sixth in their last seven games – set up a potential title-clinching contest on Friday, when Grand Rapids will host Game 4 of the Calder Cup Finals at 7 p.m. The game is already sold out.
The Crunch scored first in controversial fashion 10:21 into the contest. With Adam Almquist crumpled and motionless in the right corner after taking a hard hit from Richard Panik, the referees allowed play to continue in the Griffins’ end for 11 seconds before Panik himself cashed in on Syracuse’s numbers advantage by roofing a shot from the bottom of the right circle. The crowd of 10,102 lustily voiced its displeasure while Almquist was attended to, and the defenseman ultimately skated off the ice and headed to the locker room on his own power. He did not return.
Grand Rapids built a 2-1 lead by scoring twice in the first five minutes of the second period. Tomas Tatar extended his franchise playoff record for goals by scoring his 13th on a wraparound at 2:09, before Luke Glendening potted a rebound from the slot at 4:53.
Syracuse tied matters at the 9:56 mark of the second when a floating shot from Dan Sexton from the right point seemed to catch Petr Mrazek by surprise, sailing over his right shoulder.
Two Griffins had great initial chances to put their team back on top in the third period, but Cedrick Desjardins robbed Tomas Jurco with a right pad save seven minutes in and stopped a partial breakaway by Gustav Nyquist with 9:25 remaining. But with 4:49 left, Hoggan circled out from behind the net and muscled his way to the bottom of the left circle before turning and whipping a shot on net that Jan Mursak tipped into the far corner, lifting the roof off Van Andel Arena in celebration.
Not finished for the night, Hoggan put the victory away when he swooped around a defender down the right side and drove hard to the net before popping the puck past Desjardins. The netminder tried to unleash his frustration by pounding Hoggan, but the Griffins’ captain quickly escaped the scrum to celebrate with his teammates.
Mrazek earned his 14th win of the postseason with 26 saves, while Desjardins finished with 25 stops. Both teams went 0-for-4 on the power play.
Notes: The crowd of 10,102 was the largest in the Griffins’ AHL playoff history, crushing the previous mark of 5,529 set on April 18, 2003 for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It was also the fifth-largest playoff crowd in franchise history, including the team’s first five seasons (1996-2001) as members of the IHL…Friday’s Game 4 is already a sellout. It will be the second crowd of 10,834 to attend a Griffins playoff game and the first since the franchise’s second postseason game ever, an IHL Turner Cup Playoff contest on April 26, 1997…The Crunch began this postseason 11-1 before losing three straight to the Griffins, and their core group of 10 players who won the 2012 Calder Cup as members of the Admirals were on a 21-1 playoff streak prior to the Calder Cup Finals…In its history, Grand Rapids won both previous best-of-seven series in which it held a 3-0 lead.
Three Stars: 1. GR Hoggan (goal, assist); 2. GR Mursak (game-winning goal, assist); 3. Tatar (goal)