CLEVELAND – The Lake Erie Monsters scored twice in the final six minutes of the third period on Saturday to rally for a 4-3 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins at Quicken Loans Arena and take a 2-0 lead in the Central Division finals.
Grand Rapids had staged its own comeback from an early two-goal deficit to grab a 3-2 lead by the second intermission, but Ryan Craig and Daniel Zaar scored within a span of 2:36 to enable the Monsters to hold serve in this best-of-seven series.
The Griffins, who last season fell behind 0-2 to Toronto in the first round before taking that best-of-five with three straight wins at Van Andel Arena, will now host Game 3 on Sunday at 4 p.m. and Game 4 on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Each team was whistled for four minors during the first period, and the steady parade to the penalty box saw Lake Erie capitalize on its third and fourth power play chances to build a 2-0 lead. Kerby Rychel’s shot from the left circle was denied by Tom McCollum’s pad, but a crashing Sonny Milano knocked the puck across the line with his skate at 14:39 for a goal that withstood video review. Steve Eminger increased the Monsters’ advantage less than three minutes later, slamming home T.J. Tynan’s backdoor pass from the bottom of the left circle at 17:33.
A significant turn of events in the final 1:08 of the frame gave the Griffins a goal and the momentum heading into the second. Consecutive cross-checking penalties to the Monsters awarded Grand Rapids a 5-on-3 power play with nine seconds remaining, and the Griffins quickly took advantage to cut their deficit to one before the buzzer and preserve 1:51 of power play time on fresh ice to begin the middle period.
Andy Miele won a faceoff just outside the Lake Erie zone over to right winger Anthony Mantha, who sped in and centered a pass to Eric Tangradi. He threaded a shot into a tiny window between Joonas Korpisalo and the left post with just 3.4 seconds showing to silence the partisan crowd.
While the Griffins could not score during their nearly full power play to start the second, they pulled even seconds after its expiration thanks to a goal by Xavier Ouellet at the 2:05 mark. Controlling the puck along the right wall, Andreas Athanasiou fed it to the goal mouth to Ouellet, whose shot ticked off Korpisalo’s blocker on its way into the far corner of the net.
McCollum stifled a breakaway by Oliver Bjorkstrand midway through the period to maintain the tie, sliding to his right and deflecting Bjorkstrand’s backhand up into the protective netting. The Griffins then took their first lead of the afternoon with their second power-play goal at 14:58, as Mark Zengerle’s pass from the end boards was converted by a wide-open Miele low in the right circle.
The Monsters failed to cash in on a pair of power play chances midway through the third, and the stars briefly looked aligned against them when McCollum made a glove save to rob a point-blank try by Alex Broadhurst with 6:01 remaining. But Lake Erie netted the equalizer 11 seconds later when the puck came out from behind the net to the veteran Craig, who chipped it inside the right post before McCollum could get across.
Lake Erie kept pressing and tallied the game-winner at 16:46. McCollum had his stick knocked from his hands by Trent Vogelhuber, but play continued and nine seconds later Zaar’s shot from the left side slipped inside the far post.
The Griffins went on their seventh power play at 17:56 and pulled McCollum for a 6-on-4 advantage but could not get a fourth shot past Korpisalo, who finished with 23 saves. McCollum made 16 stops for Grand Rapids.
The Griffins have never won a best-of-seven series in which they lost the first two games, going 0-5, but their current roster boasts 18 players who were part of last year’s squad that became the 11th in AHL history to win a best-of-five series after trailing 0-2.
THREE STARS: 1. LEM, Daniel Zaar (game-winning goal); 2. LEM, Ryan Craig (game-tying goal); 3. LEM, Trent Vogelhuber (two assists).