Teemu Pulkkinen‘s third goal of the game broke a 3-3 tie with 2:46 left in regulation and lifted Grand Rapids to a 5-3 victory over Rockford in Game 1 of the teams’ Western Conference semifinal series at Van Andel Arena on Wednesday night.
The Griffins take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 2 scheduled for Friday.
Pulkkinen now has nine goals in six games this postseason and 32 goals in his last 27 AHL games for the Griffins, who won their fourth game in a row overall and their 15th of 17 on home ice.
Kevin Porter opened the scoring 2:01 into the game with the first playoff goal of his seven-year pro career, giving the Griffins a 1-0 lead.
Mark McNeill tied it for the IceHogs at 8:41 of the second period with his first of the postseason, but Pulkkinen scored twice in a span of 3:23 to give Grand Rapids a 3-1 lead at the second intermission.
Stephen Johns, whose overtime goal finished Rockford’s three-game sweep of Texas in the first round, scored his second goal of the playoffs at 3:16 of the third period to pull the IceHogs within one, and Garret Ross tied things up again at the 9:20 mark.
After Pulkkinen completed his third hat trick of the season at 17:14, Louis-Marc Aubry sealed the win with an empty-netter at 19:42.
Tyler Bertuzzi and Andy Miele notched two assists each for Grand Rapids and Tom McCollum (4-1) stopped 34 shots.
Michael Leighton (3-1) made 23 saves for Rockford, which has lost only seven games since Feb. 21 — four of those at the hands of the Griffins.
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 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 13 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 8:00
Game 4 – Thu., May 14 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 8:00
*Game 5 – Sun., May 17 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 5:00
*Game 6 – Tue., May 19 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., May 20 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern