Grand Rapids scored twice late in the third period and three times in the shootout to earn a 4-3 win over Hamilton at Copps Coliseum on Wednesday night in the first of three consecutive meetings between the North Division foes.
Netminder Jimmy Howard stopped 25 of 28 shots in regulation and overtime, then denied three of five Bulldogs in the shootout.
With the point, the Bulldogs guaranteed themselves no worse than a third-place finish and a first-round playoff date with the Rochester Americans.
The Griffins’ win moved them four points ahead of Peoria in the race for the fourth and final playoff berth out of the North Division, while eliminating Syracuse from playoff contention.
Evan McGrath had a goal and two assists in regulation and provided a goal in the shootout to help Grand Rapids overcome a 3-1 deficit. Matt Ellis scored the tying goal for the Griffins with 2:51 left in regulation.
MILWAUKEE 3, PEORIA 2 (SO)
Goals from Brandon Segal and Rich Peverley in the final two rounds of the shootout led the Milwaukee Admirals to a comeback 3-2 victory over the Peoria Rivermen at Carver Arena.
Sheldon Brookbank led the Milwaukee with a goal and an assist as the Admirals rallied from an early 2-0 deficit. Brookbank, who earlier in the day was named the recipient of the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman, tallied in his third straight game and continues to lead all blueliners with 53 points (15g, 38a) in 76 games.
Pekka Rinne earned his 14th win of the year by stopping 27 of 29 shots and five of six players in the shootout to secure the win for Milwaukee.
Trent Whitfield and Tomas Mojzis both scored for Peoria, which trails Grand Rapids by four points and Iowa by five points in the race for one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Rivermen have three games remaining.
WORCESTER 6, LOWELL 1
The Worcester Sharks rattled off six unanswered goals to hand Lowell a 6-1 loss at the DCU Center.
The Sharks are now one point away from clinching a Calder Cup Playoff berth in their first season in Worcester.
Craig Valette and Lukas Kaspar each recorded a goal and an assist for the Sharks, who have tallied 13 goals in their last two games. Thomas Greiss stopped 34 of 35 shots to earn his 26th win of the year.
Chris Minard scored his 30th goal of the year for Lowell in a losing effort. The Devils remain three points behind fourth-place Providence in the Atlantic Division with three games remaining.
ALBANY 4, BINGHAMTON 0
Tyler Weiman stopped all 18 shots that he faced as the Albany River Rats shut out the Binghamton Senators, 4-0, at the Times Union Center.
Shane Willis tallied a pair of goals and Keith Aucoin recorded three assists in the win for Albany, which moved three points ahead of Bridgeport for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division. The River Rats have 80 points on the season, reaching that plateau for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
Aucoin’s three helpers give him 98 points on the season, tying John Madden’s franchise record.
Defenseman Kyle Cumiskey had a goal and an assist for Albany, which shut out an opponent for the first time since Dec. 8, 2006.
WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON 6, BRIDGEPORT 0
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers stopped all 25 shots from the Sound Tigers to lead the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to a 6-0 rout of Bridgeport at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza.
It was Drouin-Deslauriers’ 22nd victory and fourth shutout of the year.
Ryan Stone scored two goals and added an assist for Wilkes-Barre, which moves to within two points of the East Division lead behind Hershey with 108 points and a record of 51-21-2-4. The Penguins’ 51 wins match their franchise-record total from last season.
The Sound Tigers fell three points behind Albany in the race for the final playoff spot in the East.
IOWA 3, HOUSTON 1
Junior Lessard recorded points in all three Iowa goals, picking up a goal and two assists as the Stars defeated the Houston Aeros by a score of 3-1 at the Toyota Center.
Chris Conner had an assist and scored the game-winning goal with 9:33 left in regulation for the Stars, who won their third straight game against Houston. Dan Ellis had a 24-save performance to improve his record to 29-21-1.
Janos Vas tallied an empty-net goal for Iowa, which earned its 25th road win of the season.
Joel Ward scored the lone goal in the loss for Houston, a penalty shot in the third period.
MANCHESTER 6, SPRINGFIELD 4
Tim Jackman and Jeff Likens each tallied two goals as Manchester defeated Springfield, 6-4, at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Barry Brust backstopped the Monarchs to their sixth straight win with 21 saves.
The Monarchs, who have clinched the Atlantic Division title, are five points behind Hershey in the race for first place overall.