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Griffins complete sweep, move on

by Jason Pearson / Detroit Red Wings
Griffins defenseman Xavier Ouellet guards against Milwaukee forward Matt White during Game 3 of the AHL's Central Division semifinals Tuesday night in Grand Rapids. (Photo by Mark Newman/Grand Rapids Griffins)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins finished off their first series sweep in 13 years on Tuesday and advanced to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs for the fourth straight season with a 4-1 triumph over the Milwaukee Admirals in Game 3 of the Central Division semifinals at Van Andel Arena.

Anthony Mantha led the way with a pair of second-period goals, as the Griffins rallied from a 1-0 deficit to tally the last four goals of the contest. Tom McCollum made 28 saves and allowed just a single goal for the third straight game, finishing the series 91-of-94 (0.968) between the pipes.

After toppling the division champions, the fourth-seeded Griffins will continue their quest for the Calder Cup by facing the second-seeded Lake Erie Monsters in the best-of-seven Central Division finals. The schedule for that series is set to be released on Wednesday afternoon.

A pair of stellar defensive plays by the Griffins kept the game scoreless through the first 10 minutes. Four minutes in, McCollum lunged to his right to deny Felix Girard’s point-blank attempt off an odd-man rush, stopping the shot with his right pad. Then, midway through the frame, a Grand Rapids turnover in the neutral zone turned into a breakaway by Vladislav Kamenev, but a backchecking Eric Tangradi hustled to make up a several-stride deficit and knocked the puck away from Kamenev before he could get off a shot.

The Admirals out shot the Griffins 15-9 during the opening period and their persistence paid off with a goal at 18:47. McCollum stopped Yakov Trenin’s initial shot from the left circle, but the rebound sat just outside the crease until Adam Payerl sped in to pop the puck past McCollum’s glove while fighting off a defender. It marked Milwaukee’s only even-strength goal of the series.

While a full moon occurred during Friday’s Game 1 in Milwaukee, its effects weren’t felt until early in tonight’s second period. The Griffins scored two goals in less than two minutes, both of which passed through the same part of the net and were counted only after video review. Brian Lashoff fired a shot from the point that beat Marek Mazanec at 1:17 for his first playoff goal in seven years, but it wasn’t ruled as such until a stoppage in play almost two minutes later allowed the referee to review it. Similarly, a Mantha wrister from the left faceoff dot passed through the twine just inside the far post at 2:46, as confirmed by a prompt visit to the replay monitor.

Mantha’s second goal in the waning minutes of the period increased the Griffins’ lead to 3-1, as he ripped a no-doubt one-timer through a screen at the 17:25 mark. Colin Campbell then added the night cap 12:05 into the third, stealing the puck at the Milwaukee blue line, breaking in alone on Mazanec and roofing a shot that ignited the crowd of 7,915 fans.

Mazanec finished with 22 saves in his only appearance of the series, after Juuse Saros took the loss in Games 1 and 2.

The Griffins’ only prior series sweeps were 4-0 decisions over Chicago in the 2003 Western Conference semifinals and over Cleveland in the 2001 IHL Eastern Conference semifinals.

Grand Rapids’ four-year streak of winning a playoff series is the third-longest in the AHL since the 16-team format was adopted in 2005. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton recently advanced to the second round for the sixth straight year (2011-2016) after previously posting a five-year run (2005-2009).

GRIFFINS NOTES: McCollum’s 12 career playoff wins tie Jimmy Howard for second on the Griffins’ all-time list, behind only Petr Mrazek (20). … The three total goals allowed by the Griffins in their sweep set a franchise record for fewest surrendered during a playoff series. … Both playoff meetings between Grand Rapids and Milwaukee have been sweeps, as the Griffins’ avenged a 0-4 loss to the Admirals in the 2006 Western Conference finals.

THREE STARS: 1. GRG, Anthony Mantha (two goals); 2. GRG, Tom McCollum (W, 28 saves); 3. GRG, Eric Tangradi (two assists).

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