GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Tomas Jurco registered his first professional hat trick off three assists from Gustav Nyquist as the Grand Rapids Griffins rolled to a 5-3 decision over the Rockford IceHogs on Friday, marking their third straight win at Van Andel Arena and their eighth victory in their last nine outings overall.
Coupled with Milwaukee’s 4-3 loss to Chicago tonight, the first-place Griffins (10-3-1-1) have opened up a five-point lead over both the Admirals and IceHogs (8-8-1-0) in the Midwest Division race. Grand Rapids will face those same Wolves on Saturday in an 8 p.m. EST start at Allstate Arena.
The Griffins’ AHL-leading offense opened the scoring just 2:22 into the contest. On a rush into the Rockford zone, deft passing by Calle Jarnkrok and Nyquist culminated with Jurco popping the puck past Kent Simpson from close range, but the IceHogs answered at 9:42 when Jeremy Morin slammed home his own rebound from the right circle.
Three minutes after Rockford’s goal, Grand Rapids was afforded a great chance to jump back ahead after two consecutive IceHogs penalties resulted in 1:59 of 5-on-3 power play time. Despite several scoring chances, the Griffins were unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
However, the home team did cash in on a one-man advantage late in the second period to take a 2-1 lead into the final 20 minutes. From above the left circle, Teemu Pulkkinen teed up a lethal slap shot that blistered the top of Simpson’s net at the 16:46 mark.
Jeff Hoggan padded the cushion 7:47 into the third, finding the rebound of Brennan Evans’ shot in the slot and quickly chopping a backhand into the top left corner. When Jurco finished off a beautiful tic-tac-toe play by redirecting a long Nyquist pass into the back door at 10:02, the power play marker gave the Griffins a comfortable 4-1 lead. But the IceHogs responded just 18 seconds later to again pull within two, as Alex Broadhurst slapped a rebound past Petr Mrazek.
The exact timing sequence repeated itself minutes later. Jurco finished off his hat trick by scoring on a seemingly impossible angle from the left corner at 15:59 to make it 5-2, and Phillip Danault potted a rebound at 16:17 to make things interesting down the stretch.
Mrazek earned his third straight win behind 26 saves, while Simpson – who was relieved by Antti Raanta for an uneventful 35 seconds late in the game – stopped 28 of 33 in the loss.
Notes: Jordin Tootoo made his Griffins debut and played his first AHL game since the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs. His assignment by the Red Wings on Thursday, coupled with the AHL’s veteran rule, resulted in Triston Grant being among the night’s healthy scratches…Patrick Eaves, assigned to Grand Rapids earlier today, is expected to arrive in town on Sunday night and have his first practice with team on Monday.
Three Stars: 1. GR Jurco (hat trick); 2. GR Nyquist (three assists); 3. GR Pulkkinen (power play goal, assist)