GRAND RAPIDS - The Grand Rapids Griffins had everything set up in their favor as they returned home for Games 3-5 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Barracuda.
They split the first two games in California, taking away home ice advantage and offering an opportunity to win the series at Van Andel Arena.
A sluggish, turnover-filled start Wednesday night did not deter the Griffins, who rallied in the third for a 4-2 victory and 2-1 series lead.
The Griffins have won five straight at home, tying a franchise record for consecutive home playoff wins.
1. Mitch Callahan: The California native had the best chances of all the Griffins in Game 3 and finally took advantage at 16:20 of the third period. Linemate Eric Tangradi had shot the puck, which Barracuda goaltender Troy Grosenick saved, but Callahan came around behind the net and pounced on the loose puck. It was Callahan's fifth goal of the playoffs and he joined Ben Street (12 points), Tyler Bertuzzi (11 points), Tangradi (10 points), Matt Lorito (10 points) in the double-digit point club. Callahan was named first star.
Quotable: "It all started, Tango got the puck on the wall, moved his feet and kind of gained the middle. I just fanned out, trying to be open for him. He drove the middle of the net and I gave it to him and was fortunate to get the rebound. I thought the ref might have blown his whistle but it was a little loose and the goalie kind of moved his shoulder and that made it more loose. I had an empty net, I just had to put it in." - Callahan
Quotable II: "That line was good tonight. Street, Callahan, Tangradi, they worked hard, they were really good for us in Game 1. Tangradi is a big body, he finishes his checks hard and he's hard to play against. Cally, typical Mitch Callahan goal, just around the net and the puck was loose and he was able to bang it in. But that line was very good. If they play like that, they'll get their chances." - Griffins coach Todd Nelson
2. Jared Coreau: After giving up two first-period goals, Griffins netminder Jared Coreau kept the Barracuda off the scoresheet for the remainder of the game. Coreau was extremely upset with San Jose's second goal by Ryan Carpenter on a shot he believed he should have easily stopped. But he kept his composure, keeping Grand Rapids in the game while his teammates tried to find their legs. Eventually the Griffins put together a strong third-period comeback to win the game, but if it wasn't for Coreau's resiliency, the game could have been out of reach by then. Coreau faced 33 shots, stopping 31.
Quotable: "You just got to flush it away (giving up a bad goal). I don't know if I think too much about it, obviously, I came into the room and apologized to the guys for the squeaker I let in, but we're an accountable group and when we have a period like that everyone takes responsibility. We just know we had to get better from that point on." - Jared Coreau
Quotable II: "Tonight's game could have gone south really quick if he wasn't there for us. It's a sign of maturity, over the last two years he's developed a playoff maturity. In the first and second series we saw him getting better and better and more confident. He faced adversity in Game 2 against Chicago where we got beat 7-3 and he bounced back the next night and played extremely well. We are seeing him grow as a goalie." - Nelson on Jared Coreau's evolution in goal.
3. Nathan Paetsch: When the team is struggling, as the Griffins were to start the game, they need their leaders to come through and that's what Paetsch did. The Griffins captain scored his first goal of the playoffs at 13:47 of the first period. Both the defenseman and Paetsch ended up falling down during the play. Paetsch later assisted on Callahan's game-winner in the third period.
Quotable: "It was huge for our confidence, obviously. We thought we played a good hockey game. We had a few chances, we couldn't get it past their goalie, he played extremely well. And we kept at it, kept at it and the boys came out in the third, kept the same system, kept going at him, going at him and finally we were rewarded." - Paetsch