GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Tom McCollum turned aside 28 shots and Teemu Pulkkinen tallied two of the Griffins’ five unanswered goals on Friday as Grand Rapids seized a 2-0 series lead with a 5-1 victory over the Rockford IceHogs at Van Andel Arena.
Pulkkinen, who has five goals in two games against the IceHogs and a league-leading 11 on the postseason, has now lit the lamp 34 times in his last 28 AHL contests. Meanwhile, McCollum became the first Griffins goalie to win five consecutive home playoff games while also tying Marc Lamothe’s postseason record of five straight victories overall, set in 2003.
The Griffins, who have won all four best-of-seven series in their history in which they held a 2-0 lead – most recently, the 2013 Calder Cup finals – will look to stay hot as the conference semifinals switch to Rockford for as many as three straight contests. Game 3 is set for Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
The IceHogs opened the scoring 6:18 into the first period, capping off an eventful 45-second shift in the Griffins’ zone. After Alexey Marchenko had broken his stick, Spencer Abbott had whiffed on a chance at a wide-open net and Stephen Johns had escaped an interference call during a race to the puck with Pulkkinen, Brandon Mashinter eventually put a one-timer through McCollum’s five hole from the high slot to give Rockford its first lead of the series.
Tyler Bertuzzi answered for Grand Rapids at 12:26, taking a sharp-angle shot from the left boards that ticked off Michael Leighton’s catching glove and landed in the mesh for the rookie’s third goal and sixth point in just five postseason games.
Grand Rapids took a 2-1 lead 9:32 into the second period, after surviving a sequence in its own end in which McCollum lost and played without his stick for an extended period. Xavier Ouellet finally chipped out the puck from deep in his zone to create a 2-on-1, and Anthony Mantha buried Kevin Porter’s centering pass for his first playoff goal as a professional.
The Griffins pulled away with two goals early in the third period, making it a 4-1 game and inciting shenanigans from the visitors. Pulkkinen took a stretch pass from Porter and outraced Ville Pokka before beating Leighton just 1:36 into the period, before Jeff Hoggan scored on a rebound of a Pulkkinen shot at 7:58.
Simultaneous Rockford penalties on Viktor Svedberg for boarding Louis-Marc Aubry and Ryan Hartman for sucker-punching Andreas Athanasiou with just over six minutes remaining gave the Griffins a 5-on-3 power play for two minutes, during the early portion of which Johns laid a vicious and unpenalized cross-check to Bertuzzi in the IceHogs’ goal mouth. Pulkkinen made Rockford pay for its transgressions by netting his second of the night on a rebound at the left post with 4:36 left.
McCollum and the defense held off Rockford to the final horn, at which time the IceHogs initiated another scrum that eventually saw three players from each side receive misconduct penalties.
Leighton finished with 25 saves against the Griffins, who, like McCollum, set a franchise mark with five straight home playoff wins and tied their record with five consecutive postseason victories overall.
GRIFFINS NOTES: The crowd of 7,593 was the second-largest for a second-round playoff game in franchise history (8,057 on May 16, 2014 vs. Texas in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals). … With 28 points (18-9—28), Pulkkinen has tied Jiri Hudler (7-21—28) for second place on the Griffins’ all-time playoff scoring list, trailing only Derek King (16-25—41), while Hoggan (10-12-22) has matched Slava Butsayev (5-17—22) for seventh place.
THREE STARS: 1. GRG Tom McCollum (W, 28 saves); 2. GRG Teemu Pulkkinen (two goals, assist); 3.GRG Anthony Mantha (goal)