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Griffins win battle of division leaders

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The fourth day of Christmas yielded the fourth straight win for the Grand Rapids Griffins, who rallied from an early deficit then withstood an overtime-forcing penalty shot goal before prevailing 3-2 in a shootout over the Toronto Marlies on Friday at Van Andel Arena.

Francis Pare’s fifth-round shootout goal tilted this battle of division leaders in favor of the Griffins, who also gained a measure of revenge for the last defeat they suffered, a 5-0 decision in Toronto on Dec. 16.

Grand Rapids (17-9-1-1), which pulled two points ahead of idle Rockford in the Midwest Division race, will try to make it 5-for-5 on its current seven-game homestand when it hosts a rematch with the Marlies on Saturday at 7 p.m. Detroit Red Wings legends Kris Draper and Joe Kocur will sign autographs prior to the game, while the first 1,200 fans will receive a Scotty Bowman Stanley Cup bobblehead.

The Marlies scored the only goal of the first period at the 6:54 mark. Will Acton picked up the puck with speed just outside the Grand Rapids blue line, got behind two defenders and scooped it over Petr Mrazek from close range.

The Griffins struck back during their second power play chance 8:05 into the second, as Brendan Smith took a pass from Gustav Nyquist at the point and quickly fired a shot that sailed into the top of Ben Scrivens’ net.

With the score tied 1-1 entering the final period, the Griffins capitalized on another power play to seize their first lead. Nathan Paetsch won a battle for the puck in the right corner and slipped it into the lower circle to Riley Sheahan, who beat Scrivens with a short-side shot over the glove at 4:33.

Less than five minutes later, Toronto’s Matt Frattin was awarded a penalty shot after being taken down from behind by Smith, and his hard wrister from between the circles solved Mrazek with 10:34 left in regulation, knotting the score at two.

Two minutes into overtime, the Marlies (18-9-1-2) narrowly missed a game-winning goal when Mike Kostka’s shot rang off the post, and Mrazek was briefly shaken up seconds later when he was run over by Spencer Abbott, sparking an altercation that sent both Smith and Abbott to the box for roughing.

The ensuing 3-on-3 and the final 42 seconds of overtime transpired harmlessly for each team, sending the contest to the shootout. Nyquist tallied the first goal in extraordinary fashion to start round three, performing a spin-o-rama at the top of the crease before backhanding the puck into a wide-open net. Frattin subsequently hit iron, failing to duplicate his earlier penalty shot success, but after Joe Colborne tied matters to close out round four, Pare beat Scrivens five-hole and Mrazek stoned Abbott to ignite a celebration by the crowd of 8,333.

Mrazek logged 26 saves to earn his third straight win and improve to 10-3-0, while Scrivens made 24 stops.

THREE STARS: 1. GR Pare (SO-clinching goal); 2. GR Mrazek (W, 26 saves); 3. TOR Frattin (penalty-shot goal)

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