The Grand Rapids Griffins have advanced to the AHL’s Western Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons, finishing off the Rockford IceHogs with a 5-3 win in Game 5 at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Griffins won the series, four games to one, and will face either Utica or Oklahoma City for the right to represent the West in the Calder Cup Finals.
Andy Miele had a goal and two assists, Teemu Pulkkinen added a goal and an assist and Tyler Bertuzzi netted his fourth game-winner of the postseason to lead Grand Rapids to its seventh win in the last eight games and the fourth AHL conference finals appearance in team history.
The Griffins reached the conference finals in 2003 (lost to Houston) and 2006 (lost to Milwaukee) before defeating Oklahoma City en route to winning the Calder Cup championship in 2013.
The Griffins grabbed a 1-0 lead 5:01 into the game on Sunday with a power-play goal from Pulkkinen, a blast from the center point that found the net for his seventh goal of the series and his 13th goal of the playoffs.
Grand Rapids made it 2-0 just 39 seconds into the second period. Miele forced a turnover at the Griffins blue line and took off on an odd-man rush the other way. He hit the left-wing circle, spun to the backhand and put the puck past Michael Leighton for his third goal of the playoffs.
Mac Carruth replaced Leighton (10 saves) and was greeted 1:37 later by Marek Tvrdon, who slipped a rebound into an open cage after Carruth’s initial stop of an Alexey Marchenko shot. It was the first postseason goal for Tvrdon.
At the 12:21 mark, Bertuzzi banked a sharp-angle shot off Carruth and in for his fourth goal of the series and sixth of the playoffs, giving the Griffins a 4-1 lead that they would take into the second intermission.
After killing off a Rockford power play, Grand Rapids made it 5-1 with 8:22 left in regulation. With Carruth off for an extra attacker, Pulkkinen’s rink-long shot went wide but Jeff Hoggan got to the puck first and deposited it into the vacant net; it was the second goal of the playoffs for the Griffins captain.
Having reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the IceHogs did not go off quietly. Zach Miskovic got one back with 3:46 to play, beating Tom McCollum to the short side with a drive from the right-wing faceoff dot, and Brandon Mashinter netted a power-play goal with 1:59 left to trim the deficit to 5-3.
The Griffins weathered the late storm and held on for the win, their second straight away from home following a six-game postseason road losing streak.
McCollum (7-2) finished with 24 saves in the game. Carruth stopped 13 of 15 in relief in his Calder Cup Playoff debut.
Both teams were 1-for-5 on the power play in Game 5.
Western Conference Semifinals – Series “L” (best-of-7)
2-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 4-Rockford IceHogs
Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Rockford 3
Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Rockford 1
Game 3 – Wed., May 13 – ROCKFORD 4, Grand Rapids 1
Game 4 – Thu., May 14 – Grand Rapids 2, ROCKFORD 1 (OT)
Game 5 – Sun., May 17 – Grand Rapids 5, ROCKFORD 3