The Western Conference Finals opened at Van Andel Arena on Friday night and the hometown Grand Rapids Griffins struck the first blow with a 2-1 win over the Oklahoma City Barons.
The Griffins take their 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series into Game 2 on Saturday.
The Barons scored 16 goals in the last three games of their second-round series against Texas, but got just one puck past Grand Rapids goaltender Petr Mrazek (8-4), who made 27 saves on the night.
The first goal of the series came off the stick of Griffins defenseman Brennan Evans, who ended a 109-game drought (regular season and playoffs) with his first goal since Feb. 21, 2012, when he was a member of the Peoria Rivermen. Riley Sheahan worked the puck back to the point and Evans’ long wrister eluded Yann Danis (7-4) at the 7:15 mark of the opening period.
Andrew Hotham tied the game at 1-1 with 3:20 left in the first. Jonathan Cheechoo cut across the high slot and left a drop pass for a criss-crossing Hotham, who snapped a shot from the left-wing faceoff dot past the glove of Mrazek. It was Hotham’s second goal of the postseason.
Landon Ferraro put Grand Rapids back on top 2:35 into the second period with what would prove to be the game-winning goal. Ferraro slammed home a pass from Tomas Jurco off a wraparound from behind the cage for his third goal of the playoffs.
Mrazek and Danis (26 saves) were perfect the rest of the way, with Mrazek preserving the victory by making 15 saves in the second period and six more in the third.
Grand Rapids was 0-for-4 on the power play in Game 1; Oklahoma City was 0-for-3.
Shots were even at 28-28, marking the first time in 12 games this postseason that the Griffins did not outshoot their opponent.
Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
3-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 5-Oklahoma City Barons
Game 1 – Fri., May 24 – GRAND RAPIDS 2, Oklahoma City 1
Game 2 – Sat., May 25 – Oklahoma City at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 29 – Grand Rapids at Oklahoma City, 8:00
Game 4 – Fri., May 31 – Grand Rapids at Oklahoma City, 8:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 1 – Grand Rapids at Oklahoma City, 8:00
*Game 6 – Tue., June 4 – Oklahoma City at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 5 – Oklahoma City at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern