GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins used a season-high three power play goals to rally for a 4-2 victory over the Rockford IceHogs on Wednesday at Van Andel Arena.
Mitch Callahan, Cory Emmerton, Andrej Nestrasil and Nathan Paetsch each enjoyed two-point nights and Tom McCollum posted 31 saves to help the Griffins improve to 6-1-0-1 against the IceHogs this season and become the first team in the Western Conference to break the 50-point plateau.
Grand Rapids (24-9-1-2, 51 pts.) will stage the second and third contests of its six-game home stand this Friday and Saturday when the Iowa Wild pay their first-ever visits to Van Andel Arena. Game time each night is 7 p.m.
The teams traded power play goals in the opening period, beginning when Rockford’s Drew LeBlanc crashed the crease to pounce on a rebound and slip the puck beneath McCollum at 5:47. The Griffins got it back at the 17:16 mark, as Ryan Sproul ripped a one-timer past NHL veteran Jason LaBarbera from above the left circle.
In the second period, the 18th minute again proved fruitful for the Griffins’ power play, thanks to a second-chance tally by Callahan that put the Griffins ahead at 2-1. His initial shot from the slot was deflected high toward LaBarbera, who tried to glove the puck over his head but instead knocked it down to a waiting Callahan, who quickly popped it home at 17:35.
Brennan Evans gave Grand Rapids a two-goal advantage just 1:34 into the third when his shot from the left half-wall slipped past the Rockford netminder, who logged seven games with the Edmonton Oilers earlier this season. But the IceHogs answered at 8:50 with a shorthanded marker by Adam Clendening, whose wrister from the right circle somehow found its way through McCollum.
McCollum redeemed himself with just under four minutes remaining, though, diving to his left to thwart a 2-on-1 chance by Mark McNeill.
Rockford’s comeback hopes were all but extinguished with 49 seconds left when Brad Winchester took a slashing penalty, but Riley Sheahan added the exclamation point by walking in alone on LaBarbera and roofing a shot with 30 ticks showing on the clock, capitalizing on the Griffins’ seventh power play chance of the evening.
LaBarbera stopped 36 shots in his third appearance with the IceHogs.
Note: Evans tied his career high with his third goal of the campaign. Last season, he went without a goal while playing in all 76 regular season contests before tallying two in the postseason, including the Calder Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 of the finals at Syracuse…With his next victory, McCollum will join Joey MacDonald (109) and Jimmy Howard (90) as the only goalies to earn 60 wins as a Griffin.
Three Stars: 1. GR Callahan (power play goal, assist); 2. GR Paetsch (two assists); 3. GR Nestrasil (two assists)