GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Tomas Tatar’s late third period goal made the difference and helped the Grand Rapids Griffins extend their winning streak to seven games and take control of the Midwest Division with a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Wolves on Friday night at Van Andel Arena.
Entering the night even at 18 points, the Griffins (9-4-1-1) regained sole possession of first place in the division after a back-and-forth contest with the Wolves (8-6-2-0). Grand Rapids will also take on Midwest Division rivals tomorrow (8:35 p.m. EST at Peoria) and Sunday (4 p.m. versus Milwaukee).
Grand Rapids opened the scoring on Tatar’s first of the night at 7:56 of the opening frame. Francis Pare found Tatar wide open cutting into the slot, and he made no mistake in popping a wrist shot over the shoulder of Chicago netminder Eddie Lack. A parade of teddy bears and stuffed animals poured onto the ice from the stands following the goal as part of the Griffins’ annual Teddy Bear Toss. The stuffed animals will be donated to Hug-A-Bears of Kent County.
Chicago had a chance to tie the game when it was awarded a penalty shot after Alex Friesen was tripped up on a breakway at 5:47 of the middle stanza. Friesen approached Petr Mrazek with speed but ripped a shot wide of the net, which kept Grand Rapids ahead momentarily.
The Wolves eventually drew even when defenseman Mark Matheson found time and space in the slot, tying the game at 8:25 with a quick shot over the glove of Mrazek. The tie lasted just 13 seconds, as Mitch Callahan caught up to a loose puck and beat Lack on a partial breakaway to give Grand Rapids a 2-1 advantage.
Chris Tanev tied the game at two before the end of the second period. Tanev gathered a pass from Matheson and paused briefly before letting a shot go that banked off the post and past Mrazek at 17:37.
A power play to start the third period helped Grand Rapids take advantage once again. Coming into the game with the league’s fourth-best power play, the Griffins scored on the man advantage for the fifth consecutive game when Chad Billins found the back of the net through traffic just 36 seconds into the frame. The goal was Billins’ first as a pro, despite sitting second on the team in scoring with an AHL-high 14 assists.
The Wolves did not go quietly, knotting the game again at 5:53. Brett Sterling walked in front of the goal unmarked, but his attempt was stuffed by Mrazek. However, Chicago’s Anton Rodin pounced on the rebound and flipped the puck past Mrazek for his first tally of the season.
Grand Rapids took the lead for good at 17:47 of the third period. With a defender draped over his back, Tatar collected a pass from Louis-Marc Aubry and powered his way to the goal, finding space above Lack for his second goal of the night and ultimately the game-winning marker.
The win improved Mrazek to 6-0 on the season, which marks the best start by a goaltender in franchise history. Mrazek and Lack each made 25 saves apiece.
THREE STARS: 1. GR Tatar (two goals); 2. GR Billins (goal); 3. GR Callahan (goal)