Grosse Pointe, Mich., native and University of Michigan product Zach Werenski scored 12:32 into overtime as the Lake Erie Monsters won the Central Division Finals with a 4-3 victory in Game 6 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on Monday night.
Werenski outraced three Griffins defenders to a loose puck, backhanded a shot on net, collected the rebound and put it past Jared Coreau to set up the Monsters’ date with Ontario in the Western Conference Finals, beginning Saturday night.
Lake Erie, which won the first three games of the series, was coming off back-to-back losses and faced a 2-0 deficit before Game 6 was even three minutes old, but rallied to avoid having to play a Game 7 in Columbus on Wednesday night.
Ryan Sproul’s second goal of the postseason just 34 seconds in – a shot from the point that eluded Joonas Korpisalo – gave Grand Rapids a quick 1-0 lead, and the Griffins doubled their advantage at 2:16 when Tomas Nosek carried the puck the length of the ice, left it for Mitch Callahan in the slot and then buried the rebound of Callahan’s shot for his first goal of the playoffs.
Lake Erie answered at 3:42 of the first as Daniel Zaar’s shot through traffic beat Coreau, his third goal of the playoffs.
The rest of the opening period went by scoreless, but Grand Rapids regained its two-goal lead on a power play 1:48 into the second as Xavier Ouellet’s point shot beat Korpisalo for his second goal of the postseason. Korpisalo (6 saves) was replaced by Anton Forsberg after that goal.
The Griffins coughed up a puck in their own zone and Zaar found Michael Chaput in front to cut the Monsters deficit to 3-2 at 8:18 of the second period, and Lake Erie tied things up when Lukas Sedlak deflected a shot on net and then swatted in the rebound for his fourth goal of the postseason 1:43 into the third.
Lake Erie killed off three Griffins power plays in the last 9:21 of regulation and another one early in overtime, setting the stage for Werenski’s winning goal.
Forsberg turned aside all 23 shots he faced in relief of Korpisalo to backstop the Monsters to victory. Coreau made 43 saves in defeat for the Griffins.
Central Division Finals – Series “K” (best-of-7)
C2-Lake Erie Monsters vs. C4-Grand Rapids Griffins
Game 1 – Thu., May 5 – LAKE ERIE 3, Grand Rapids 2 (OT)
Game 2 – Sat., May 7 – LAKE ERIE 4, Grand Rapids 3
Game 3 – Sun., May 8 – Lake Erie 2, GRAND RAPIDS 1
Game 4 – Tue., May 10 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Lake Erie 4
Game 5 – Sat., May 14 – Grand Rapids 6, LAKE ERIE 1
Game 6 – Mon., May 16 – Lake Erie 4, GRAND RAPIDS 3 (OT)
— AHL (@TheAHL) May 17, 2016