GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Zach Werenski’s goal 12:32 into overtime on Monday put an end to the Grand Rapids Griffins’ hopes for a historic series comeback, as the Lake Erie Monsters claimed the Central Division finals with a 4-3 win in Game 6 at Van Andel Arena.
Werenski, who left the University of Michigan this spring after his sophomore season, collected his own rebound along the left goal line and quickly worked his way to the goal mouth before popping a shot past Jared Coreau, sending the Monsters on to the Western Conference finals to take on the Ontario Reign.
The loss was Grand Rapids’ second overtime setback and fourth one-goal defeat of the series. After smashing franchise records with 15- and 13-game winning streaks during the regular season and authoring a first-round sweep of division champion Milwaukee, the Griffins fell one goal shy of becoming just the fifth team in AHL history to force a Game 7 in a series in which it had trailed 0-3.
The Griffins leapt to a 2-0 lead in the first 2:16 of the game, pushing their scoring advantage to 12-1 over the last 84 minutes of the series. Grand Rapids benefited from a bit of puck luck just 34 seconds in, as Ryan Sproul’s blast from the right point looked to be sailing wide left of the net, but the puck deflected off the back side of Joonas Korpisalo’s stick and across the line. Tomas Nosek added to the cushion a couple shifts later, converting a rebound from the bottom of the left circle to put the Monsters in an early hole.
Daniel Zaar staunched the bleeding for the visitors at the 3:42 mark, maneuvering above the right circle before teeing up a slap shot that Coreau never saw through a sea of bodies in front of his net.
Korpisalo, who stifled the Griffins with 41 saves in Lake Erie’s 2-1 win in Game 3, was pulled for the second straight game after Xavier Ouellet beat him on a shot from the point during a power play 1:48 into the second period, having allowed three goals on just nine shots. The Griffins would not score again over the game’s final 51 minutes, despite firing another 23 shots on net.
Anton Forsberg entered in relief, and Michael Chaput pulled Lake Erie back to within one less than seven minutes later. Off a turnover in the Grand Rapids zone, Zaar centered a pass to Chaput, who slipped a shot between Coreau and the left post at 8:18 to make it a 3-2 contest.
It was the Monsters’ turn to strike in the early minutes of a period as the third opened with Lukas Sedlak chipping a rebound over Coreau’s left shoulder while being knocked to the ice at 1:43. Lake Erie continued to carry the play, outshooting Grand Rapids 15-8 for the period despite surviving three Griffins power plays in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
The Monsters finally received their own chance with 21 seconds left, and Coreau made a point-blank stop on Oliver Bjorkstrand a split second before the buzzer to send the game to the extra session. The Griffins killed off the remainder of Lake Erie’s power play on the fresh ice at the start of overtime, then failed on another opportunity after the Monsters were caught with too many men 3:14 into the frame.
The Griffins finished 1 for 7 on the power play, while Coreau helped deny the Monsters’ three chances as part of a 43-save performance.
Grand Rapids lost a home game in which it held a two-goal lead for the first time since an identical script unfolded on Feb. 7, 2015, when Rochester fell behind 2-0 before rallying for a 4-3 overtime win.
THREE STARS: 1. LEM, Zach Werenski (overtime goal, assist); 2. LEM, Michael Chaput (goal, assist); 3. GRG, Xavier Ouellet (power-play goal).