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BERTUZZI, GRIFFINS PUSH ICEHOGS TO THE BRINK

Photo by Greg Hamil
05/14/2015 9:48 PM

Article By: Brent Hollerud

Tyler Bertuzzi's game-winning goal 13 seconds into overtime gives Grand Rapids 3-1 series lead

Rockford, Ill. - A couple of weeks back it was quick overtime goal by the Rockford IceHogs that punched their ticket to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. On Thursday night it was an even quicker one that threatens to remove them from it. 

Tyler Bertuzzi's second goal of the game - coming only 13 seconds into overtime - lifted the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 2-1 win over the IceHogs in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals at the BMO Harris Bank Center. With the victory the Griffins grabbed a 3-1 stranglehold in the best-of-seven series, sending Rockford to the brink of elimination. The IceHogs will need to win three-straight to advance to the next round, starting with Sunday's Game 5 at the BMO. 

After opening the game's scoring with a first period goal, Bertuzzi ended it when he flipped a rebound behind Rockford goaltender Michael Leighton before some people even found their seats for the extra frame. Entering the zone with speed right wing Mark Zengerle threw a shot on net, which handcuffed Leighton leaving a second-chance opportunity right outside the crease. Bertuzzi pounced on the loose puck, throwing it home for the fourth-fastest overtime goal in AHL history. 

The rookie forward's fifth of the playoffs gave Grand Rapids their first road win in four tries this postseason - putting them one win away from their second Western Conference Final appearance in three years.

For Rockford the crushing defeat marked the second foray into overtime in what was their third home game of the playoffs - two trips that lasted a cumulative 36 seconds. In Game 3 against Texas, defenseman Stephen Johns closed out overtime 23 seconds after it began, ousting the Texas Stars. Now the IceHogs need to rally to avoid the same fate. 

Prior to the fleeting extra session, the Midwestern Division rivals duked it out in an exhilarating display of hockey, one played at a breakneck pace from start to finish. Both teams had ample chances to score and give the game a regulation ending, but strong outings from Leighton and Griffins netminder Tom McCollum made the overtime period necessary.

Leighton finished with 29 saves, including a handful of stops on rushes and breakaways, while McCollum's only blemish came from a near-perfect shot from Phillip Danault in the second period. Factor in a couple of posts hit by the Griffins, and a bevy of Grade-A scoring looks from the IceHogs - and it was astonishing that the contest only saw three total goals. 

Grand Rapids carried the play in the early stages of the game, using their tenacious offensive zone pressure to bring about Bertuzzi's first goal. A hard forecheck caused a turnover behind the IceHogs goal line which enabled the Griffins to work the puck around the perimeter, until Zengerle threaded a shot from the left point to the net. Bertuzzi found an opening, and redirected the puck over Leighton's shoulder to give the visitors a 1-0 lead 6:48 into the contest.

Rockford found their stride late in the first period and into the second, and eventually found an equalizer when Danault capped off a transition rush. On the heels of a neutral zone turnover Keith Seabrook sprung Danault, Mark McNeill and Garret Ross the other way with speed. With Ross luring a defender to the middle, McNeill fired a perfect cross-ice feed to Danault, who beat McCollum high over the blocker. Clocking in at 9:01 of the second, Danault's third goal and fifth point of the postseason was the last of the scoring through he end of 60 minutes. 

In stark contrast to the penalty-filled Game 3 the night before, Thursday's Game 4 only saw three infractions called. The IceHogs were scoreless in two tries on the power play while Grand Rapids was 0-for-1. 

The IceHogs are now faced with the task of having to win Sunday's Game 5 in Rockford, and then two more at Van Andel Arena next Tuesday and Wednesday in order to extend their season. The last team to successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit was the 2013 Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins - a team who actually had to win four straight to defeat the Providence Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

Next Home Game: Sunday, May 17 - Game 5, Western Conference Semifinals vs. Grand Rapids Griffins. Face-off is at 4 p.m. The IceHogs and Griffins meet for Game 5 Sunday afternoon at the BMO. Once again fans can take part in a Pre-Game Block Party presented by Swedish American Hospital, beginning at 1 p.m. in the area outside of the box office.