Grand Rapids finished off a comeback from two games down and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals with a 3-1 win over the Toronto Marlies in Game 5 at Van Andel Arena on Sunday evening.
The Griffins, who lost the first two games of the series on the road, won three straight on home ice to knock off the seventh-seeded Marlies. They became the 11th team in AHL history to win a best-of-five series after dropping the first two.
Grand Rapids will meet Rockford in the second round beginning Wednesday.
The Griffins dominated the early stages of Game 5 and broke through with 11:11 to play in the first period when Louis-Marc Aubry redirected an Alexey Marchenko shot over the shoulder of Antoine Bibeau and in for his second goal of the series and a 1-0 lead. Grand Rapids wound up with an 18-9 advantage in shots in the opening frame.
The Griffins broke the tie at 12:35, capitalizing on a Marlies turnover. Bibeau gloved a dump-in and left it for defenseman Viktor Loov, but Loov overskated the puck and Alden Hirschfeld pounced on it, firing it home for a 2-1 Grand Rapids lead.
Andreas Athanasiou gave the Griffins some breathing room at 3:38 of the third period, flying down the right wing and snapping a shot past Bibeau just moments after McCollum had denied a pair of point-blank chances to tie from the Marlies’ Byron Froese and Troy Bodie.
McCollum (3-1) finished with 35 saves in Game 5, earning his third straight win. Bibeau (0-1), making his first appearance of the series, turned aside 39 of 42 shots in defeat.
Western Conference Quarterfinals – Series “F” (best-of-5)
2-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 7-Toronto Marlies
Game 1 – Sat., Apr. 25 – TORONTO 7, Grand Rapids 4
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 26 – TORONTO 5, Grand Rapids 2
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Toronto 2
Game 4 – Sat., May 2 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Toronto 4
Game 5 – Sun., May 3 – GRAND RAPIDS 3, Toronto 1