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Larkin leads Griffins to Game 2 win

Dylan Larkin scored twice in the first period and Grand Rapids rolled to a 4-2 win over Utica on Monday night at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, squaring the Western Conference Finals at a game apiece.

The best-of-seven series shifts to West Michigan for the next three games, beginning Thursday night.

Larkin, the 15th overall pick by Detroit in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, was appearing in just his second game with Grand Rapids after spending the 2014-15 season as a freshman standout at the University of Michigan. He joined the Griffins last week after winning a bronze medal with the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Championships.

Tom McCollum finished the night with 32 saves, preserving the victory as the Griffins were outshot 26-8 over the final two periods.

Grand Rapids got on the board first at the 15:00 mark of the opening period. Comets defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti made a fine defensive play to break up a three-on-two rush, but lost the puck behind the net to Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou sent it in front to Larkin, who one-timed it home from between the circles for a 1-0 Griffins lead.

Just 3:33 later, Grand Rapids pounced on another turnover in the Comets zone and took a 2-0 lead. Teemu Pulkkinen picked off a pass and took a shot from the top of the left circle that was blocked. Larkin picked up the rebound, took a stride and let a shot go from the same spot; this one got through Markstrom for his second goal of the period.

With the Griffins on a power play late in the second, Utica coughed the puck up trying to clear the zone and Pulkkinen swept a shot from the hash marks past Markstrom for a 3-0 lead. Pulkkinen’s league-leading 14th goal of the playoffs came with 5:48 remaining in the middle period.

Just over three minutes later, Grand Rapids made it 4-0 with another power-play goal. Mark Zengerle sent a pass to an open Tyler Bertuzzi on the doorstep, and Bertuzzi beat Markstrom for his seventh goal of the playoffs at 17:22.

Grand Rapids carried that 4-0 lead into the latter stages of the third period, but back-to-back power-play goals by Utica set up an exciting finish.

First, Cal O’Reilly centered a pass to Brendan Gaunce in the slot, and Gaunce one-timed a shot past McCollum for his fourth goal of the playoffs, cutting the deficit to 4-1 with 5:40 to play.

Gaunce then took another pass from O’Reilly and kicked it in front to Sven Baertschi, who banged in his third of the postseason with 2:30 remaining to make it 4-2.

Joacim Eriksson, who replaced Markstrom (12 saves) in the Utica net at the start of the third period, came off for an extra attacker but Grand Rapids held off the Comets’ late charge.

The Griffins were 2-for-5 on the power play in Game 2, improving to 12-for-48 (25.0 percent) on the postseason.

The Comets went 2-for-4, with those two late power-play goals coming on the heels of a 1-for-28 slide.

Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
1-Utica Comets vs. 2-Grand Rapids Griffins

Game 1 – Sun., May 24 – UTICA 2, Grand Rapids 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 25 – Grand Rapids 4, UTICA 2
Game 3 – Thu., May 28 – Utica at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., May 29 – Utica at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 5 – Sun., May 31 – Utica at Grand Rapids, 5:00
*Game 6 – Tue., June 2 – Grand Rapids at Utica, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 3 – Grand Rapids at Utica, 7:00
   *if necessary… All times Eastern