A 25-save performance from Jacob Markstrom along with two early goals propelled Utica to a 2-1 win over Grand Rapids in Game 1 of the AHL’s Western Conference Finals on Sunday night.
Game 2 is Monday back at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
The Comets drew first blood just 35 seconds into the game on Nicklas Jensen’s second goal of the postseason. Off an offensive-zone faceoff win by Cal O’Reilly, Peter Andersson found Jensen in deep along the right-wing wall. Jensen cut towards the net along the goal line and roofed a sharp-angle shot past Griffins goaltender Tom McCollum.
The Comets made it 2-0 at 11:06 of the first period as Brandon DeFazio’s wrister found its way through McCollum from the left circle.
Grand Rapids got on the board with 3:57 to go in the opening frame, four seconds into a power play. Andy Miele won a faceoff to Teemu Pulkkinen, whose pass back to the point was wristed on net by Nathan Paetsch and deflected in by Mark Zengerle for his first goal of the playoffs.
Markstrom (8-5) allowed two goals or fewer for the 11th time in 13 starts this postseason and handed the Griffins just their second loss in the last nine outings.
McCollum (7-3) stopped 29 of 31 shots on the night.
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 at Utica, 7:00
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