Veteran forward Jamie Tardif stretched his point streak to a season-long five games, but it wasn’t enough as the Rochester Americans dropped a 5-1 decision to the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins Friday at Van Andel Arena. The game was the first of back-to-back tilts between the former North Division rivals, who will finish out the two-game set Saturday in suburban Michigan.
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Despite the Amerks gaining the early advantage over the Griffins, Grand Rapids quickly erupted for five straight unanswered goals, including three in the second period.
Tardif potted the lone goal for the Amerks, while Matt Hackett finished with 29 saves in the loss for Rochester.
Leading the way for the hometown Griffins were Landon Ferraro (2+0), Tomas Jurco (1+1) and Jeff Hoggan (0+2), who each notched two points in the win behind a 33-save effort from goaltender Petr Mrazek. Riley Sheahan and Patrick Eaves rounded out the scoring for Grand Rapids, which has now won 14 of its last 16 games, including each of its last six and seven straight on home ice.
Tardif certainly made his presence felt in his return to Grand Rapids when he nearly scored 10 seconds into the contest with a shot from below the right face-off circle. Mrazek, though, was able to get across his crease at the last second to make the save as he was tested early.
Tardif did eventually solve Mrazek later in the opening frame, however, as he slammed home Phil Varone’s rebound at the foot of the goal-mouth for a power-play tally at 16:27. Varone moved off left half-wall and placed a low shot on goal that Mrazek was able to knock away, but Tardif, who spent the first five seasons of his pro career with the Griffins, including two as team captain, swept the rebound past the Griffins netminder on his second attempt for a 1-0 Amerks lead. Rookie defenseman Chad Ruhwedel also earned an assist on the play.
The goal gives Tardif four in his last five games and extends his current point streak to five, while Varone has recorded seven points (1+6) through his last five outings to maintain his position atop Rochester’s scoring leaders.
The Griffins would quickly answer with a power-play goal of their own just 1:51 later with Jurco tipping in a Ryan Sproul slap-shot to knot the game at 1-1. After making a nice play to keep the puck alive at the blueline, Sproul skated into the high slot and delivered a blast from the high slot that Jurco deflected inside the right post for his team-leading 11th goal of the season.
Ferraro gave Grand Rapids a two-goal cushion early in the second period, scoring twice in a span of 3:38 to put the Griffins ahead 3-1. First, Ferraro took a pass from Jordin Tootoo in the left corner and made a dash to the net looking to wedge the puck inside the near post. Hackett made the initial save, but the rebound soon pinballed around the crease before eventually trickling over the goal-line. Ferraro would strike again 2:17 later, connecting on a centering feed from Luke Glendening and roofing one past Hackett to put the hosts up by a pair.
Grand Rapids appeared to take its largest lead of the night minutes later after Mitch Callahan redirected Nick Jensen’s shot from the left point. However, referee Ryan Hersey immediately disallowed the goal citing Callahan used an illegal kicking motion.
The Griffins soon put the game out of reach, making it 4-1 before the halfway point of the second stanza with Sheahan’s fifth of the season from Hoggan and Teemu Pulkkinen. Hoggan, who got tangled up at center ice, caught Sheahan in stride with a nifty drop pass streaking up the left wing boards. Sheahan gained the Rochester zone uncontested and picked the upper left corner with a slap-shot from the top of the circle.
Grand Rapids made it five straight unanswered goals midway through the third period after the Griffins capitalized on a costly turnover in the Amerks zone. Jurco stepped in front of an attempted clearing pass just inside the Rochester blueline and spun a pass to Eaves, who caught Hackett off guard and flipped a shot over the outstretched leg of Hackett to make it a 5-1 game.
Rochester looks to avoid the weekend sweep as the Amerks and Griffins square off again for the second straight night in the back-end of the two-game set on Saturday, Dec. 7 at Van Andel Arena. Game time is slated for an 8:00 p.m. start and can be heard live on Sports 1280 WHTK.