CLEVELAND – Tyler Bertuzzi’s hat trick and three-point nights by Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Sproul powered the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 6-1 win over the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday in Game 5 of the Central Division finals at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Griffins win cuts the Monsters’ series lead to 3-2 with their second straight victory.
Going back to the start of their historic comeback in Game 4 at home on Tuesday, the Griffins have outscored the Monsters 10-1 over the last 81 minutes played, with goalie Jared Coreau stopping 51 of the 52 shots he’s faced since entering the series.
The Griffins will now host Game 6 on Monday at 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena, where they are 6-0 when facing elimination since the start of their Calder Cup run in 2013. Grand Rapids, which is trying to become the fourth of 130 AHL teams that have trailed 0-3 to rally and win a best-of-seven series, is already just the 18th of those teams to force a Game 6.
Both goalies were tested often during the opening period, with Lake Erie firing 15 shots on Coreau and Grand Rapids returning 12 on Joonas Korpisalo. The Monsters enjoyed the only celebration at the 16:42 mark, as a crashing Kerby Rychel deflected Zach Werenski’s centering pass inside the left post a moment before he and Tomas Nosek plowed into Coreau.
The Griffins began their run of six unanswered goals and seized the lead with a pair of tallies early in the second. Off a nifty backhand pass by Jeff Hoggan just inside the Monsters’ zone, Andy Miele broke down the right side with a step on the defense and roofed a shot into the near corner of the net 1:56 into the frame. Bertuzzi’s first of the night then came at the 5:03 mark after Athanasiou had driven to the goal mouth out of the right corner. Athanasiou lost the puck at the top of the crease but Bertuzzi was there to pop it past Korpisalo’s glove.
Coreau made two huge saves late in the period to maintain the one-goal cushion, kicking out Rychel’s try for a second marker and robbing Oliver Bjorkstrand with his glove, before Athanasiou made good on a spectacular breakaway at 16:52 for a two-goal advantage. Reaching back at the Griffins’ blue line for a puck that was catching up to him, he immediately sped through a pair of Monsters at center ice and bore down on Korpisalo, deking before depositing the puck inside the left post to make it 3-1 through two periods.
For the third time in their last four periods, the Griffins notched a three-goal frame over the final 20 minutes to complete the rout. After Athanasiou was denied on another breakaway, Bertuzzi followed up to lift the puck over a prone Korpisalo with 12:05 remaining. Nathan Paetsch scored his first goal in 58 playoff games as a Griffin on a slap shot from the top of the circles during a power play at 13:25 to chase Korpisalo and bring on Anton Forsberg, who yielded Bertuzzi’s third goal from the slot at the 16:40 mark.
Coreau finished the night with 35 saves to improve to 2-0 on the postseason. Korpisalo stopped 25 of 30 in the loss while Forsberg turned back five of six in relief.
GRIFFINS NOTES: With the Griffins’ top two goal scorers from the regular season – Martin Frk and Eric Tangradi – out of the lineup due to injuries, highly touted 19-year-old forward Evgeny Svechnikov made his pro debut and recorded his first point with an assist on Paetsch’s goal. Detroit’s first-round selection (19th overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, Svechnikov tied Jakub Kindl (19th in 2005) as the second-highest Red Wings’ draft pick to ever play for Grand Rapids, behind only Dylan Larkin (15th in 2014). … Grand Rapids’ roster boasts 18 players who were part of last year’s squad that became the 11th in AHL history to win a best-of-five series after trailing 0-2, rallying to beat Toronto in the conference quarterfinals.
POTENTIAL GAME 7 MOVED: Should a Game 7 of the Central Division finals – originally scheduled for this Tuesday at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena – be necessary, the game will be moved to Nationwide Arena in Columbus at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The change in date and venue was necessitated by a busy event calendar at Quicken Loans Arena that includes Game 1 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals on May 17 and a Carrie Underwood concert on May 18.
The Griffins trail the Monsters 2-3 in the best-of-seven series following Saturday's 6-1 win in Game 5 in Cleveland. Grand Rapids, which is trying to become the fourth team in AHL history to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 0-3, will host Game 6 at Van Andel Arena at 7 p.m. Monday.
THREE STARS: 1. GRG, Tyler Bertuzzi (hat trick); 2. GRG, Jared Coreau (W, 35 saves); 3. GRG, Andreas Athanasiou (goal, two assists).