GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The AHL’s No. 1 goalie and its top-ranked rookie netminder squared off in a battle of division leaders on Friday night at Van Andel Arena. And, much to the credit and delight of his Grand Rapids Griffins teammates, Petr Mrazek out-dueled both veteran Barry Brust and his understudy to lead the home squad to a 5-1 victory over the Abbotsford Heat.
Mrazek finished with 29 saves and came within 3:12 of recording his first pro shutout, improving his season marks to 9-3-0 with a 2.24 goals against average and a 0.919 save percentage.
The Griffins (15-9-1-1) have won two straight to maintain their first-place standing in the Midwest Division, while the Heat (15-7-3-3) have suffered consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season but remain atop the North. Grand Rapids, now in sole possession of first thanks to tonight's losses by both Rockford and Peoria, will continue its season-high seven-game home stand on Saturday when the Chicago Wolves visit at 7 p.m.
Brust, who hasn’t surrendered more than two goals during regulation in any game this season, kept the Griffins off the board until just their 11th shot of the night was registered with 5:51 remaining in the second period.
Taking a cross-ice pass from Gustav Nyquist on a rush into the Heat zone, Tomas Tatar drove down the left side and drew Brust far out of his net. Abbotsford defenseman Joe Callahan inadvertently bumped his netminder from behind, preventing Brust from scrambling back to the paint, and Tatar quickly fed Joakim Andersson at the doorstep for an uncontested goal at 14:09.
Another Brust mistake allowed the Griffins to take a 2-0 lead into the second intermission. He wandered out from his right post to play the puck but hesitated as it straddled the trapezoid, a moment of indecision that allowed Francis Pare to get to the wayward disc, spin and feed Riley Sheahan on the back door for a goal into a gaping net with 1:44 left.
Having displeased his coaches with his ventures, Brust ceded his crease to second-ranked Danny Taylor to start the third period, but the change failed to stop Grand Rapids’ momentum. Awarded an early power play against the AHL’s top penalty killers, the Griffins broke a 0-for-23 drought with the advantage at the 3:35 mark. Adam Almquist fired a slap shot from the right point into a crowded crease, and Pare darted into the slot and put the rebound inside the right post for a 3-0 Griffins lead.
Sheahan scored his second goal of the night at 16:04, redirecting a long-range Nathan Paetsch blast, but Mrazek lost his shutout bid 44 seconds later when Nick Tuzzolino finished off a scramble around the Griffins’ net. The Heat then pulled Taylor with just under three minutes remaining in an attempt to claw closer, but Nyquist scored an empty-netter with 1:08 left.
The Griffins notched their largest margin of victory this season while snapping a four-game home-ice skid against the Heat that dated to a 6-1 decision on Oct. 25, 2009.
THREE STARS: 1. GR Sheahan (two goals); 2. GR Mrazek (W, 29 saves); 3. GR Pare (goal, assist)