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Larkin sparks Griffins to Game 2 win

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin helps in front of the net as Griffins goalie Tom McCollum makes a save Monday night. Larkin scored twice in propelling Grand Rapids to a 4-2 win. (Photo by Lindsay A. Mogle/Utica Comets)

UTICA, N.Y. Dylan Larkin’s first two professional goals and a strong performance by Tom McCollum paced the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 4-2 victory over the Utica Comets on Monday in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, tying the series at one game apiece.

Grand Rapids held a 4-0 lead deep into the third period before Utica scored a pair of power-play goals to spoil the shutout bid of McCollum, who had stopped 56 consecutive shots over a span of 102:21 since allowing the Comets’ second goal midway through the first period of Sunday's 2-1 loss.

The Griffins will play a home game for the first time in 20 days this Thursday when they host Game 3 against the Comets at 7 p.m. Friday’s Game 4 and next Sunday’s Game 5 will also take place at Van Andel Arena.

The early part of the first period was a power-play fest, with the Griffins failing on two chances and denying the Comets’ lone advantage before the game was 11 minutes old. More costly than Grand Rapids’ missed opportunities, however, was the loss of center Tomas Nosek, who left the contest for the duration less than three minutes in after sustaining a hard hit at center ice from Brandon DeFazio, who drew an interference penalty on the play.

But the Griffins still built a 2-0 lead thanks to Larkin, Detroit’s first pick in the 2014 NHL draft. Playing in just his second game since signing with Grand Rapids on Thursday, the former Michigan Wolverine gave the Comets their first deficit in 135 minutes played by slamming Andreas Athanasiou’s feed inside the right post from the slot at the 15-minute mark.

Just 3:33 later, Larkin launched a 40-foot shot on net that Jacob Markstrom mishandled, enabling the puck to bounce behind him and trickle across the goal line.

Teemu Pulkkinen and Tyler Bertuzzi pushed the margin to four with consecutive power-play goals 3:10 apart late in the second period. Pulkkinen notched his AHL-leading 14th of the postseason at 14:12, whipping a shot home from the slot after Bertuzzi had dug the puck out from beneath a prone Comet. Bertuzzi then logged his seventh goal of the playoffs, solving Markstrom with a wrister from the right circle.

Joacim Eriksson replaced Markstrom between the Comets’ pipes to start the third while, down on the other end, McCollum kept it a 4-0 game during another Griffins' power play early in the frame, making a great save at the right post to deny a shorthanded try by Alex Biega.

The Comets finally broke through with a power-play goal by Brendan Gaunce with 5:40 left in the game, as his one-timer snapped McCollum’s shutout streak. Sven Baertschi made it interesting by scoring with an extra attacker for the night’s fourth power-play tally at 2:30, but Utica couldn’t get closer.

McCollum finished with 32 saves to improve to 8-3 in the postseason. Markstrom made 12 stops before ceding to Eriksson, who turned aside both shots he faced in the third.

GAME NOTES: The Comets allowed more than two goals for just the third time in 14 playoff games. … Jeff Blashill coached his 46th playoff game for the Griffins, twice those of No. 2 Greg Ireland in franchise history. Blashill’s 28 playoff wins dwarf Ireland’s 11, also the second-most all-time. … The Griffins are 6-3 all time and 2-0 under Blashill when tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series.

THREE STARS: 1. GRG Dylan Larkin (two goals); 2. GRG Tom McCollum (W, 32 saves); 3. UTI Brendan Gaunce (power-play goal, assist).

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