GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Facing elimination and trailing 4-1 in the waning moments of the second period, the Grand Rapids Griffins scored four goals over the game’s final 20:55 – capped off by Andreas Athanasiou’s game-winner with 1:55 remaining – to stun the Lake Erie Monsters 5-4 at Van Andel Arena and stay alive in the AHL’s Central Division finals.
Tyler Bertuzzi hit Athanasiou with a cross-ice feed during a rush up ice, and he unleashed a wrist shot from the left circle that buzzed the glove of Joonas Korpisalo on its way inside the far post. The Griffins then held on to hand Lake Erie its first loss of the postseason and force a Game 5 at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Jared Coreau saw his first action of the 2016 playoffs in relief of starter Tom McCollum and was perfect with 16 saves over the game’s final 26:29, enabling the Griffins’ comeback that improved their record when facing elimination at home to an incredible 6-0 since the beginning of their Calder Cup run in 2013.
Lake Erie opened the scoring for the third straight game with its fifth power-play goal of the series, as Michael Chaput planted himself at the top of the paint to deflect Daniel Zaar’s blast 8:33 into the first period.
The Griffins answered five minutes later when Mark Zengerle delivered a pass from the left boards to Bertuzzi, who whipped a shot inside Korpisalo’s near post from the right circle at 13:32.
The deadlock lasted only 54 seconds and was broken by a highlight-reel effort by Sonny Milano, who took a pass while speeding down the right side and did a spin-o-rama before roofing a bottle-popping backhand through an impossibly small hole above McCollum’s shoulder.
The Monsters extended their lead to 3-1 at the 8:36 mark of the second, with Lukas Sedlak managing to slip a wrist shot by McCollum from low in the left circle. When Oliver Bjorkstrand went top-shelf from the slot off a faceoff win at 13:31 for a three-goal Lake Erie advantage, it spelled the end of the night for McCollum, as Coreau came on and helped turn the tide for Grand Rapids.
Anthony Mantha sparked the rally by cutting the Griffins’ deficit to 4-2 with a power-play tally 55 seconds before intermission, sending a shot through a screen from atop the right circle.
The inspired home team then scored twice in the opening five minutes of the third to forge a tie in a game it had trailed by three just 5:35 earlier, but not before Coreau kept it a two-goal margin 50 seconds in by making a brilliant left toe save on Markus Hannikainen, who had broken in with a step on Ryan Sproul.
Louis-Marc Aubry tallied through traffic from the left faceoff dot off a slick pass by Xavier Ouellet at 3:12 to pull Grand Rapids within one, before Robbie Russo ignited the crowd by launching a shot from the right boards that Korpisalo was unable to handle at 4:40, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic finishes in the franchise’s 20 seasons.
The Griffins solved Korpisalo five times on 35 shots after getting just one of 42 shots past him in Game 3 on Sunday. McCollum stopped 17 of 21 in the no-decision.
GRIFFINS NOTES: Bertuzzi’s 11 career playoff goals match Jeff Hoggan for the lead among active Griffins and tie for eighth all time on the club. … All four games of this series have been decided by a single goal. … Grand Rapids improved to 12-12 all time and 9-5 at home when facing playoff elimination. … The Griffins are trying to become the fourth team in AHL history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2013, Adirondack in 1989, and Rochester in 1960).
THREE STARS: 1. GRG, Andreas Athanasiou (game-winning goal); 2. GRG, Anthony Mantha (power-play goal, assist); 3. LEM, Lukas Sedlak (goal, assist).