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Griffins win marathon playoff opener

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings
Grand Rapids goalie Petr Mrazek made a playoff franchise-high 55 saves in Friday's 2-1 double overtime victory at Abbotsford. (Photo by Clint Trahan/Abbotsford Heat)

ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia – The defending Calder Cup champions never played overtime during their 2013 playoff run, but they more than made up for it during Friday’s record-setting playoff opener in Abbotsford, as the Grand Rapids Griffins rode a historic 55-save performance by Petr Mrazek to a 2-1 double overtime win against the Heat.

Ryan Sproul ended the marathon at 19:26 of the fifth period when his long shot from the right boards deflected past Abbotsford netminder and fellow AHL All-Rookie Team member Joni Ortio, ending the third-longest game in franchise history and giving the Griffins the upper hand in their best-of-five conference quarterfinal series.

Grand Rapids, which owns an all-time playoff series record of 8-2 when winning Game 1, will look to sweep the B.C. portion of this series on Saturday when the Heat host Game 2 in a 10 p.m. EDT start at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre. Game 3 is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Van Andel Arena.

Mrazek’s 55 stops were the most ever for a Griffins goalie, eclipsing 54-save efforts by both Mike Fountain and Pokey Reddick in playoff games versus Orlando back in the team’s IHL days.

Defenseman Adam Almquist, was much less fortunate than Mrazek, though, as he suffered an apparent lower body injury early in the opening period when he was leveled from behind in the right corner by an unpenalized Max Reinhart long after the whistle had blown on an offside play. Almquist eventually was assisted off the ice and did not return to the game.

The Heat struck soon after at the 11:44 mark. Mrazek, making his 25th straight playoff start dating to the beginning of the 2013 playoffs, made a pair of terrific point-blank saves before Brett Olson found a rebound on the left side and quickly popped the puck into a wide-open net.

That goal held up until the latter half of the third period, as Grand Rapids withstood Abbotsford’s 15-4 shot advantage during the middle frame to keep its deficit at a single goal.

Two of the newest Griffins teamed up to produce the tying goal with 7:23 left in regulation. Mattias Backman took a slick centering pass from Andreas Athanasiou in the high slot and hesitated with a toe drag before ripping a shot into the left corner of the net.

Grand Rapids, which had seen 30 consecutive postseason games – including its entire championship run – decided in regulation time, proceeded to overtime for the first time in the playoffs since a 4-3 loss to Hamilton in Game 4 of the North Division semifinals on April 22, 2009.

The Griffins managed to survive the first overtime despite being outshot 13-5, capping off a scoreless 60-minute span in which the Heat enjoyed an incredible but fruitless 35-12 shot advantage.

Grand Rapids rebounded in the second overtime, building a 13-8 shot cushion that culminated in Sproul’s game-winner. With an elapsed time of 99:26, the game was one second longer than the Griffins’ first-ever playoff overtime game (April 21, 1997) and shorter than only a pair of triple-overtime contests.

Ortio’s 39 saves earned him third star honors. The Heat went 0-for-6 on the power play while the Griffins were scoreless in four opportunities.

GAME NOTES: The Griffins set a franchise playoff record with their sixth consecutive road victory, dating to Game 4 of the 2013 Western Conference finals in Oklahoma City. … The end time of 2:01 a.m. EDT was the latest ever for a Grand Rapids game. … All time during the playoffs, the Griffins improved to 4-0 in games decided in double overtime and 6-1 in road games that extend past regulation.

THREE STARS: 1. GR Petr Mrazek (W, 55 saves); 2. ABB Joni Ortio (L, 39 saves); 3. GR Ryan Sproul (game-winning goal)

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