GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The largest crowd for a Grand Rapids playoff opener since 1998 was forced to contain its enthusiasm for at least another two nights, as the Abbotsford Heat climbed off the mat with a 2-1 win over the Griffins on Wednesday before 7,193 fans.
Markus Granlund scored a power-play goal with only 1:02 remaining to give the visitors their first win of this Western Conference quarterfinal series and force a Game 4 that will be played at 7 p.m. EDT Friday at Van Andel Arena.
The Griffins’ offense welcomed back an entirely new and potent line in left wing Mitch Callahan, center Riley Sheahan and right wing Tomas Jurco. Callahan made his first appearance in the lineup since sustaining his infamous broken jaw exactly four weeks ago, while Jurco and Sheahan had not played for Grand Rapids since Jan. 11 and Feb. 21, respectively, due to long tours of duty with the Detroit Red Wings.
The trio paid immediate dividends, teaming up for a power-play goal with 2:33 left in the opening period. After Mattias Backman’s long shot hit Callahan out front, Sheahan found the puck in the slot and smartly slid it to a wide-open Jurco, whose shot found the seam between Joni Ortio and the right post.
Grand Rapids finished the first with a 14-7 advantage in shots, carrying over the dominance of Game 2 in which the Griffins out-shot the Heat 46-17. Abbotsford turned the tables slightly by a 10-6 count in the second, although the best scoring chances belonged to the home team. Andrej Nestrasil rang a blast off the left pipe from the half-wall, and both Teemu Pulkkinen and Andreas Athanasiou were unable to get their sticks on a centering feed that passed through the crease behind Ortio.
The Heat forged a deadlock early in the third period when defenseman Chris Breen fired a shot that Corey Locke tipped past Petr Mrazek at the 5:52 mark, before a high-sticking call on Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan with 1:20 remaining gave the Heat the opportunity they needed.
Chad Billins, a member of the Griffins’ 2013 Calder Cup championship team who signed with the Calgary Flames organization in the off-season, hit Granlund with a pass at the Griffins’ blue line. Granlund split a pair of defenders and swooped in on Mrazek before roofing a backhand for the winning tally.
Ortio bounced back with a 34-save effort after being pulled in Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Grand Rapids, while Mrazek made 23 saves but sustained his first postseason loss since Game 5 of last year’s finals.
GAME NOTES: The attendance of 7,193 marked the Griffins’ fourth-largest playoff crowd since 2001 and the 10th-largest in franchise history. During last season’s 13 home games en route to the Calder Cup, only Games 3 through 5 of the Calder Cup finals drew larger audiences. … The Griffins dropped to 4-12 all time at home when faced with the opportunity to eliminate their playoff opponent.
THREE STARS: 1. ABB Markus Granlund (game-winning goal); 2. ABB Joni Ortio (W, 34 saves); 3. GR Tomas Jurco (power-play goal).