GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — You don’t have to remind the Grand Rapids Griffins of the importance of divisional games. With the Griffins currently in sixth place in the seven-team Central Division, the defending Calder Cup champions need every win they can get if they want a chance to defend their title.
On Wednesday against the Milwaukee Admirals at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids blew a two-goal lead late in the second period and lost 4-3 to fall to 19-18-1-4.
“I think they will take their 10 minutes with this (loss), think about it, then they have to clear it out of their mind,” Griffins coach Todd Nelson told Wings Nation. “The guys understand where we are at. These are four-point games. Instead of leapfrogging them with points (Wednesday) with a win, they are up on us by three points. They are sitting in second place.
“It’s so tight right now, it’s going to be a battle right down to the end. We felt this was a good opportunity for us to get this one at home and then go on the road — it’s tough to play in Milwaukee.”
— GrandRapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) January 18, 2018
Ben Street and AHL All-Star Matt Puempel scored the Griffins’ first two goals, but U.S. Olympian Bobby Butler broke Jared Coreau’s shutout with about three minutes left in the second period.
Butler tied the game 3:30 into the third period, scoring on a breakaway shorthanded. Just 56 seconds later, the Admirals took the lead for good, when Harry Zolnierczyk collected a loose puck and fired a turnaround shot.
Trevor Murphy added another Admirals goal at the 13:22 mark, and Eric Tangradi scored with six seconds remaining for the Griffins.
Griffins captain Matthew Ford said the Admirals’ patience helped them prevail.
“We were in the driver’s seat for that third period,” he said. “They’re a team that patiently hangs around, and they don’t make a ton of mistakes, but they capitalize on ours. So, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. We had opportunities to take the game over, it wasn’t one play.”
Puempel stressed the team needs to move on from this loss and look to get those points back tonight.
“It’s behind us now, we have to forget it was a big game we let slip away,” he said. “The beauty of it is we get to go again (tonight) against them. It’s going to be a two-month battle, it’s not going to be a week here or there that will decide the end result. I can see it going on until the end of March.
Elson fills in for Turgeon on PK
With Dominic Turgeon currently playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Nelson opted to use Turner Elson with Colin Campbell on one of the PK units.
Nelson said the team’s depth gives him plenty of options to use on the penalty kill.
“We have options, Ben Street and Tangradi can kill, but we pretty much go with four or five guys,” Nelson said.
The Griffins were perfect against the Admirals, killing 4 of 4 penalties. Turgeon’s first game away from the Griffins, a 2-1 loss to the Cleveland Monsters on Jan. 13, Grand Rapids killed 1 of 2 penalties.
According to prospect-stats, Elson has one short-handed goal this season.
Missed opportunities on PP
The Griffins scored one power-play goal — Puempel’s goal was scored 5 on 3 — but that was the only man-advantage goal, as they went 1 for 7.
Puempel admitted the team had some missed opportunities.
“We moved it around well,” he said. “They did a good job of getting in shot lanes, so we just need to adjust with different plays like that. We got one there, too bad we couldn’t come through with another one there, kinda fanned on the chance in front.”
Nelson agreed about the missed opportunities: “I thought their goalie made some huge saves. We had our opportunities on the power play to score goals. You have to give (Anders Lindback) credit, he’s a good goalie. He’s a big part of why that team is where they are at in the standings. He’s a solid goaltender. He makes you earn your goals. Everything has to be side to side or re-direct or a rebound goal. He’s square to you all the time, and he makes big saves when he has to.”
Lindback made 28 saves for the Admirals.