Weekend notebook: Griffins ride big win into key weekend

Photo: Mark Newman

📝 by Patrick Williams

For one night at least, the Grand Rapids Griffins could feel the pressure lift a bit.

Actually, it was about 18 minutes.

At Van Andel Arena on Wednesday, the Griffins faced an early 2-0 deficit against the Chicago Wolves, who are facing their own postseason crunch.

“You can tell, I think, after the first we were a little frustrated,” forward Danny O’Regan said.

Grand Rapids’ season looked even more precarious as that margin held into the second intermission.

Finally, a goal came off O’Regan’s stick 91 seconds into the third period, and once that tally came, they hardly stopped. Chase Pearson evened the game at 7:12 on the power play only to have the Wolves retake the lead 31 seconds later. But Grand Rapids stuck with it, and Pontus Andreasson and Taro Hirose scored 19 seconds apart to put the Griffins on top.

Riley Sawchuk and Joel L’Esperance finished off a six-goal period and a 6-3 Grand Rapids win. The six goals were a Griffins team record for a single period on home ice.

“It was nice to just break through and get rewarded with a bunch in the third,” O’Regan said. “Once the ball started rolling, that was a blast on the bench. It just makes the legs lighter, makes everyone lighter. The more fun you’re having, the more confidence you have, I think the better everyone plays.”

The Griffins, who rank 28th in the league in offense, had only managed 14 goals in their previous seven games combined.

Said Pearson, “The message between periods was just keep working hard and then things will start to go in, and that happened.

“Yeah, there were some smiles. It was good.”

The Griffins are still 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Central Division, including two “must-win” games this weekend in Iowa. The Wild are tied with Rockford for fourth place in the Central.

This weekend’s games will conclude the Grand Rapids-Iowa season series, but the Griffins still have a pair of meetings remaining with the IceHogs.

Ten points back with 10 games to go? Not great. But there is a chance.

“I think a lot of people have counted us out,” O’Regan stated, “We’ve got nothing to lose. These are all playoff games.”

It’s a feeling that has become common for the Griffins for weeks now.

“Even at the beginning of the year,” Pearson said, “every point matters, right? But when it comes down to crunch time, you’re definitely thinking about it a bit more.”

And true to form in a season with an ever-changing roster, the Griffins saw another transaction Thursday when the parent Detroit Red Wings recalled goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who has appeared in 26 of the Griffins’ 33 games since he joined the team on Jan. 4.

Nedeljkovic joins defenseman Simon Edvinsson along with forwards Austin Czarnik and Matt Luff in Detroit. All four were in the Red Wings’ lineup against St. Louis on Thursday.

Grand Rapids is trying to avoid missing the postseason in back-to-back campaigns, a rarity in the team’s 22 seasons in the AHL. The Griffins missed the playoffs three years in a row between 2010 and 2012, but came back to win Calder Cup championships in 2013 and 2017 and make another trip to the conference finals in 2015.

Head coach Ben Simon knows some of that history personally. He came to the club in 2015 as an assistant coach, holding that role for three seasons before a promotion to his current role in 2018.

“Six goals in a period is a testament to the guys in the room and having a little bit of faith and resilience,” said Simon. “I like the fact that we didn’t quit. It’s easy to look at the standings…and to pack it in.”

“It was nice to have the floodgates open,” Pearson said. “It gives us a bit of a confidence boost going to Iowa.”

“At this point we’re playing playoff hockey, but we have nothing to lose. We’re the underdog. We’re just trying to sneak in here.”

Simon acknowledged that Wednesday’s win would make the seven-hour bus ride to Des Moines a little more pleasant. But that is as far as he went when asked if he felt any pressure lift.

“No, because we’re still sitting out of a playoff spot.”

The AHLTV Free Game of the Week on Sunday (5 p.m. ET) features a potential early Calder Cup Playoff match-up.

The Syracuse Crunch welcome the Utica Comets to town as each team attempts to secure its playoff positioning in the North Division. The rivals are tied for second place heading into the weekend, which begins with a clash between them tonight in Utica.

In the North Division, the second- and third-place finishers will meet each other in a best-of-five division semifinal playoff series.

The Crunch are 6-2-1-0 against the Comets this season, scoring 38 goals in the nine games. Alex Barré-Boulet leads all scorers with 14 points (4g, 10a) in the season series.


🏒 Simon Edvinsson became the 65th AHL player to make his NHL debut this season.

The sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Edvinsson was recalled by Detroit last weekend and debuted on Saturday night vs. Colorado. The 20-year-old defenseman has had a strong rookie season with Grand Rapids, registering 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 51 games.

Edvinsson tallied his first NHL goal on Thursday against St. Louis.

🏒 The Charlotte Checkers have an opening to make what might be one final push for first place in the Atlantic Division when they host Providence on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

With 11 games to go, the Checkers are eight points behind the division-leading Bruins. They are back home after a dominant trip to Toronto last weekend, when they outscored the Marlies, 9-1, in a pair of wins.

Springfield then comes to town for three games, beginning Wednesday night. After that, the Checkers finish the regular season with a six-game Pennsylvania trip.

Last season, Charlotte went 16-3-2-1 over its final 22 games to capture the Atlantic Division title.

🏒 Where Darren Raddysh left off, Trevor Carrick has picked up for Syracuse. Carrick scored in each of Syracuse’s three games last week and has built a career-high four-game goal streak. His 13 goals on the season are a career best.

With Raddysh on recall to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the last month, Carrick has scored six goals in nine games in March. In all, he has 36 points and a plus-20 rating in 48 games.

A 2019 Calder Cup champion with Charlotte, Carrick came to the Crunch after signing with Tampa Bay last summer.

🏒 The always-changing crease in Belleville has another new face.

The Ottawa Senators reassigned goaltender Leevi Merilainen to Belleville following the completion of his season with Karpat Oulu in Finland. In 42 Liiga games, the 20-year-old Merilainen went 18-13-7 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage along with eight shutouts.

Ottawa took Merilainen in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft.

The B-Sens have a hold on fifth place in the North Division going into tonight’s game against Bridgeport.

🏒 The reinforcements continue to arrive in Cleveland as well, as the Monsters push for a trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cole Sillinger joined the AHL club on Thursday for his first AHL stint. Chosen 12th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft, Sillinger has 11 points in 64 games with Columbus this season after scoring 16 goals as an 18-year-old rookie in 2021-22. The assignment will enable Sillinger to play top-line minutes in pressure games as the Monsters’ stretch drive continues.

Sillinger is the latest young first-round pick to join the Cleveland roster, which already features Corson Ceulemans (25th overall in 2021), Yegor Chinakhov (21st overall in 2020) and David Jiricek (sixth overall in 2022).

Cleveland hosts Toronto tonight before visiting the Marlies on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, NHL Network). With 59 points, the Monsters are two points below the North Division playoff line with three games in hand on both fifth-place Belleville (61) and sixth-place Laval (60).

🏒 Rockford goaltender Arvid Soderblom put on a show Wednesday night in Winnipeg, where the IceHogs took a 4-3 shootout decision against Manitoba.

Soderblom stopped six Moose shots in overtime — one of them a Dominic Toninato penalty shot — before denying the hosts’ three shootout attempts. He finished with 43 saves on the night.

The teams meet again tonight in Winnipeg.

🏒 The Texas Stars kicked off a six-game homestand in impressive fashion, defeating Coachella Valley 3-1 on Tuesday and 6-1 on Wednesday to move back atop the Central Division.

Between recalls to Dallas, netminder Matt Murray earned both wins for Texas, stopping 48 of 50 shots combined.

The Stars also split a two-game visit to Acrisure Arena earlier this month giving them three wins in four tries against the Firebirds, who own the AHL’s top points percentage (.733).

Two points ahead of Milwaukee and four up on Manitoba in the race for first place, Texas welcomes Chicago to Cedar Park for games Saturday and Sunday.

🏒 For their mindset as much as the standings, the Ontario Reign got major relief this week.

A 4-0 win at Tucson on Wednesday snapped a 10-game losing streak (0-8-2-0)

The Reign took a 4-0 win at Tucson on Wednesday that ended a 10-game winless streak (0-8-2-0), the longest in club history. Cal Petersen made 19 saves for his second shutout of the season, and Alex Turcotte recorded an assist in his first game since Feb. 15.

Despite the slide, fifth-place Ontario is still 10 points clear of eighth-place San Jose in the Pacific Division, where the top seven teams will make the postseason. The Reign are back home to face Abbotsford tonight and Sunday; the Canucks defeated Ontario twice last weekend.


🗣️ “The ultimate goal is to win, and you want to get in the playoffs to you give yourself a chance to win the Calder Cup.”

— Grand Rapids forward Chase Pearson on his team’s push to the Calder Cup Playoffs.