GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Defenseman Brian Lashoff’s shot from the right circle slipped through Matt Climie 2:49 into overtime on Saturday and sent the Grand Rapids Griffins into their Christmas break with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the rival Chicago Wolves.
Tomas Tatar carried the puck into the Wolves’ zone and drew several defenders before finding a wide-open Adam Almquist at the point. Almquist patiently skated down the slot then slid a pass across to Lashoff, who tallied the second overtime goal of his career.
The Griffins (16-9-1-1), who trailed 1-0 with less than eight minutes to play, rallied to make it three wins in as many tries on their season-high seven-game home stand. Atop the Midwest Division with a two-point lead over Rockford, they enter their yuletide break in first place for the first time since the 2005-06 season, when they eventually captured the AHL’s regular season championship.
Grand Rapids will enjoy four days off before returning to practice Thursday in preparation for a Friday-Saturday set against the Toronto Marlies at Van Andel Arena. Both games start at 7 p.m.
Each team had ample opportunities to light the lamp during the first period, but Tom McCollum denied all 14 Chicago shots while his teammates returned 11 fruitless tries on Climie, who thwarted three shorthanded breakaways by the Griffins. Chicago again had the upper hand in shots during the middle period, by a 10-8 margin, but still neither team was able to get on the board.
The Wolves (13-9-3-1) finally broke the ice on their 25th shot and the game’s 44th during a power play early in the third period, as Darren Archibald set up in the slot and tipped Kevin Connauton’s blast from the point past McCollum at 2:43. Minutes later, it appeared that Chicago may have taken a 2-0 lead when Michael Davies broke in alone and sent a shot to the top right corner, but a review by referee Shaun Davis indicated that the puck hit near the top of the post and bounced harmlessly away.
Grand Rapids used its own power play to pull even at the 12:26 mark. From the top of the right circle, Landon Ferraro unleashed a cannon that hit a screened Climie under his right arm and caromed into the net.
The Griffins then had their own close call disallowed with 1:21 remaining in regulation. Joakim Andersson drove through two defenders down the slot before trying to stuff the puck inside the right post. Climie stuck his left pad out to stop the initial try, but when the puck slid beneath him and sat loose on the goal line, Davis lost track of it and blew his whistle just as several Griffins crashed the crease and forced the puck across the goal line.
Just over a minute into overtime, Mark Matheson almost ended matters with a snap shot from the left circle, but it clanged off McCollum’s far post to keep the Griffins alive and set the stage for Lashoff’s heroics.
Grand Rapids improved to 4-0 this season against Chicago, with two of its victories coming in overtime. McCollum, who was brilliant with 31 saves, now shows a 3-0 record, a 0.98 goals against average and a 0.964 save percentage versus the Wolves this season. Climie made 26 saves in the loss.
THREE STARS: 1. GR Lashoff (OT goal); 2. GR Ferraro (power play goal); 3. GR McCollum (W, 31 saves)