GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins survived three penalties in the game’s final 3:26 on Sunday to reclaim first place in the Midwest Division with a rough-and-tumble 4-2 victory over the Rockford IceHogs at Van Andel Arena.
The Griffins (13-7-1-1) never trailed against the IceHogs (13-11-0-1), who led Grand Rapids by a single standings point entering the game, lighting the lamp in the opening minutes of each period. Tom McCollum made 31 saves in another strong outing between the pipes, improving to 4-1 with a 1.81 goals against average, a 0.932 save percentage and one shutout in his last five appearances.
The teams traded goals exactly 10 minutes apart during the first period. Trevor Parkes carried the puck down the right side and feathered a pass into the slot to Jeff Hoggan, who in turn flipped the puck to the bottom of the left circle for Landon Ferraro, who slammed it past Alec Richards for the first of his two tallies on the night.
Rockford answered with a power play goal when Dylan Olsen’s pass from the left point was tipped past McCollum by Andrew Shaw as he skated through the doorstep.
Grand Rapids went back on top 2-1 early in the middle period. Tomas Tatar’s blast sailed wide left of the net, but the puck was corralled along the end boards by Joakim Andersson, whose attempted feed out front to Gustav Nyquist bounced off the back of Richards and across the line at 1:35.
Brendan Smith gave Grand Rapids some breathing room it would need just 1:21 into the third, firing a shot from the top of the right circle that was unwittingly redirected by a Rockford defender to make it a 3-1 game. Smith has scored all four of his goals this season against Rockford.
Late in the period, a succession of Griffins hooking penalties – Triston Grant at 16:34, Smith at 17:14 and Andersson at 18:05 – enabled Rockford to finish the game with 3:26 of power play time, including substantial two-minute advantages that became 6-on-3s when the IceHogs pulled Richards for an extra attacker.
Marcus Kruger scored a backdoor goal while the IceHogs were three skaters up at the 18:53 mark, bringing them within 3-2, but Ferraro made an outstanding play to seal the game with a shorthanded, empty-net goal. After disrupting a pass at his blue line, he chased the puck down the ice toward the right corner and flung a shot into the net from a sharp angle with just 50 seconds remaining.
The rivals combined for 132 penalty minutes on the night – 77 of which were whistled against Grand Rapids – including three fights, six misconducts and eight roughing calls.
The Griffins, winners of consecutive games against their two closest pursuers in the Midwest Division, will try to make it 12 wins in a span of 15 games this Friday when they host the Peoria Rivermen at 7 p.m.
THREE STARS: 1. GR Ferraro (two goals); 2. GR Tatar (two assists); 3. GR McCollum (W, 31 saves)