CLEVELAND – Oliver Bjorkstrand scored on a one-timer from the left circle at 12:23 of overtime on Thursday to give the Lake Erie Monsters a 3-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 1 of the Central Division finals at Quicken Loans Arena.
The power-play goal came 15 seconds after Tomas Nosek had broken his stick while blocking a shot from the point, and a subsequent backdoor pass from Alex Broadhurst slid past the skates of Nosek on the way to a wide-open Bjorkstrand, who blasted it into the near corner.
Lake Erie will host Game 2 of this best-of-seven on Saturday at noon before the series turns to Van Andel Arena for Game 3 on Sunday at 4 p.m. and Game 4 on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
A scoreless first period saw each team suffer a near-miss in the late going. Andreas Athanasiou and Daniel Cleary were unable to convert on the doorstep with five minutes left, as Josh Anderson tied up Cleary in front of a gaping net before Athanasiou’s follow-up try was denied by the right pad of a sliding Joonas Korpisalo. It was the Monsters’ turn just past the 17-minute mark, when Ryan Craig muscled a one-handed shot from the right circle that hit a stick and deflected off Tom McCollum’s right post and out of harm’s way.
Each team jumped on a chance early in the second period, trading goals before five minutes had elapsed. Eric Tangradi put the Griffins ahead 58 seconds into the frame, gathering the rebound of his tip off a Robbie Russo shot and quickly popping the puck past Korpisalo. But Lukas Sedlak – who was lost by the Griffins’ defense after falling down behind the play – was waiting all alone in the slot to jam a rebound of Jamie Sifers’ point shot through McCollum’s pads at 4:29.
The Monsters went on top 2-1 thanks to power-play goal exactly seven minutes later. During a scramble around the Grand Rapids cage, Broadhurst took a shot from the right side that bounced around and settled on the goal line before McCollum dove back and inadvertently knocked it across.
A brilliant start-to-finish individual effort by Brian Lashoff resulted in a shorthanded goal and a 2-2 tie with 3:49 left in the period. Lashoff broke up a backdoor pass then burst up the right side to grab the loose puck and create a 2-on-1 with Nosek, keeping the puck before snapping a shot by Korpisalo’s glove from the circle.
The Griffins had a great chance to end the game in the final minute of regulation after Korpisalo knocked the net off during a Grand Rapids rush and was whistled for delay of game, resulting in a penalty shot with 35.7 seconds remaining. Andy Miele skated in wide right and faked to his backhand, but the puck rolled away from his forehand before he could get a shot off.
Grand Rapids briefly appeared to have won the game 1:03 into overtime, but video review concluded that Tangradi’s glove had propelled the puck into the net. A tripping penalty on T.J. Tynan at 8:27 presented the Griffins with another opportunity to win that they could not capitalize on, before Tyler Bertuzzi returned the favor on a slashing call at 11:11 that the Monsters used to cash-in the game-winning goal.
McCollum’s 36 saves out-dueled the 22 by Korpisalo but could not prevent the Griffins from suffering their first loss of the postseason.
GRIFFINS NOTES: The Griffins are now 8-13 all time in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series. They won all eight previous series in which they held a 1-0 lead but own a series mark of just 3-9 when dropping Game 1. … Lashoff, who scored his first playoff goal seven years ago against Milwaukee in round one, became just the third Griffins’ defenseman to score either a shorthanded goal (Jakub Kindl, Sean Gagnon) or an unassisted goal (Philippe Plante-2, Jason McBain) in a playoff game. … The Griffins were 8-1 in overtime during the regular season and 2-0 during the 2015 playoffs, and had been 7-1 all time in road playoff games decided in overtime. … Dating back to the 2000 IHL Turner Cup playoffs, the Griffins had been 5-0 in playoff games in Cleveland.
THREE STARS: 1. LEM, Oliver Bjorkstrand (overtime goal); 2. LEM, Joonas Korpisalo (W, 22 saves); 3. LEM, Alex Broadhurst (goal, assist).