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Griffins take command of AHL series

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings
Tyler Bertuzzi battles with Rockford defenseman Ville Pokka in front of goalie Michael Leighton during Thursday's Game 4 in Rockford. (Photo by Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs)

ROCKFORD, Ill.Tyler Bertuzzi scored his second goal of the night 13 seconds into overtime on Thursday to give the Grand Rapids Griffins a 2-1 win over the Rockford IceHogs and a commanding 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.

After goalie Tom McCollum denied a half-ice try by Ryan Hartman off the overtime faceoff, a Grand Rapids rush the other way ended with Bertuzzi popping home a rebound of a long Andy Miele shot for the fastest overtime goal in Griffins' playoff history.

The Griffins, who’ve won all five previous best-of-seven series in which they held a 3-1 lead, will have an opportunity to close out the IceHogs and advance to the conference finals when they stage Game 5 at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday at 5 p.m. EDT.

Bertuzzi first put the Griffins ahead 6:48 into the opening period, staking his ground atop Michael Leighton’s crease to redirect Mark Zengerle’s shot from the left point.

Rockford tied the score on its 18th shot midway through the contest, as Phillip Danault took a pass in the left circle and snapped a perfect shot into the top left corner of McCollum’s net at the 9:01 mark of the second stanza.

After firing a combined 25 shots during the first period, the two teams managed a total of just seven during the middle frame. The Griffins rebounded from their lackluster three-shot frame by generating chance after chance around the Rockford net during the first 10 minutes of the third, before McCollum made a series of spectacular saves on the other end as time dwindled, including a denial of Cody Bass’ breakaway in the final minutes of regulation.

Despite finishing with a 15-9 shot advantage for the third period and a 29-27 edge during regulation, the Griffins went to overtime for the first time during the 2015 playoffs and just the third time in 43 postseason games under coach Jeff Blashill.

A rookie who spent the 2014-15 season with OHL Guelph before logging just two regular season games with the Griffins, Bertuzzi now has five goals and eight points in just seven playoff games. But his heroics would not have been possible without the performance of McCollum, who made 27 saves to improve his record to 6-2 this postseason.

The Griffins’ victory snapped their franchise-record six-game losing streak on the road during the playoffs.

THREE STARS: 1. GR Tyler Bertuzzi (two goals); 2. GR Tom McCollum (W, 27 saves); 3. RFD Michael Leighton (L, 29 saves).

Western Conference Semifinals

Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Rockford 3

Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Rockford 1

Game 3 – Wed., May 13 – ROCKFORD 4, Grand Rapids 1

Game 4 – Thu., May 14 – Grand Rapids 2, ROCKFORD 1 (OT)

Game 5 – Sun., May 17 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 5:00

*Game 6 – Tue., May 19 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00

*Game 7 – Wed., May 20 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00

*if necessary... All times Eastern

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