GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Eric Tangradi snapped a shot over Tom McCollum’s glove from the top of the circles 1:33 into overtime on Friday to give the Griffins a 3-2 victory over the Charlotte Checkers at Van Andel Arena, keeping Grand Rapids’ hopes for a Central Division title alive heading into the final day of the AHL’s regular season.
With 98 points, the second-place Griffins (46-23-1-5) sit just a single point behind first-place Chicago, which will host the Checkers on Saturday while Grand Rapids visits Milwaukee at 7 p.m. EDT. The Griffins would win their eighth division title either with a win over the Admirals plus any Chicago loss to Charlotte, or with an overtime or shootout loss to Milwaukee coupled with a Wolves regulation loss.
Regardless, the Griffins know that they will face Charlotte in the best-of-five Central Division Semifinals if they claim the division crown, or they’ll play Milwaukee if they finish in second place.
The Checkers struck first during a power play at 10:46 of the opening period, as Andrew Poturalski slid across the hashmarks to tip Andrew Miller’s wrister from the right point past Jared Coreau.
A quick turn of events early in the second period resulted in a two-goal swing in the Griffins’ favor. After an apparent goal by Levko Koper that would have given Charlotte a 2-0 lead at 4:36 was negated by a too-many-men penalty, Grand Rapids knotted the score 29 seconds later during its ensuing power play when Matt Lorito beat a screened McCollum from the top of the left circle.
Midway through the second period during a 5-on-4 advantage, Matthew Ford staked the Griffins to a 2-1 lead from close quarters by deflecting a shot that Lorito launched from atop the right circle at 9:12. Lady luck then frowned on the Checkers once again with 7:31 remaining, when Valentin Zykov put a puck into a Grand Rapids net that had been dislodged a split-second earlier, eventually preserving the home team’s slim margin through 40 minutes.
Charlotte tied matters at 2-2 by scoring the night’s fourth power play tally 8:18 into the third, as Haydn Fleury’s blast from the left point bounced off a Griffins defender and snuck behind Coreau to set up Tangradi’s overtime heroics.
McCollum, now 11-2-3 since joining the Checkers last month, made 38 stops in following up Wednesday’s 42-save effort against his former mates. Coreau, meanwhile, finished with 27 saves to improve to 3-1-1 in his last five outings.