Grand Rapids Griffins defend home ice, tie series 2-2 against Texas Stars [Video]


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Griffins didn’t start their Western Conference semifinal series against the Texas Stars the way they wanted to, but they have so far defended home ice.

The Griffins scored three unanswered goals in the second period to secure a 3-2 win Wednesday and tie the best-of-seven series at 2-2 in front of 5,089 at Van Andel Arena.

“It’s a good character check for us,” Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan said of tying the series. “They took it to us down there in Texas. We made some adjustments, tried to slow them down. You can see how fast they are out there. We got to keep the pedal down, keep the momentum and keep pushing.”

The Griffins had trouble scoring in Texas notching just two goals in two games. So far in Grand Rapids, the Griffins have scored eight goals in two games.

Andrej Nestrasil scored what ended up being the game winner, as he picked up the puck after an offensive zone faceoff and banged in his own rebound to give the Griffins a 3-1 lead with 13:58 left in the second period.

After a scoreless first period, it didn’t take Texas long to break the tie. Just 13 seconds into the period, Dustin Jeffrey beat Petr Mrazek one-on-one to put the Stars up 1-0.

However, Grand Rapids answered a couple minutes later on the power play. Teemu Pulkkinen hit Cory Emmerton, who found Jeff Hoggan in the slot for a nice tic-tac-toe play to tie the game at 1-1.

The Stars outshot the Griffins 35-25 and had the Griffins on the ropes for a good part of the first period.

Jordin Tootoo, who hasn’t played since Game 1 in the previous series against Abbotsford, got an assist midway through the second period, as he took a shot from the right side, Stars goalie Cristopher Nilstorp’s save deflected straight up and Drew McIntyre was there to bat the puck in midair to give the Griffins a 2-1 lead.

“Toots brings good energy,”Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s a good hockey player, and the one thing Toots can do is he can move up and down the lineup and play lots of different roles. … He can play with guys on the first line or the fourth line.

“That was obviously really important tonight.”

Game 5 is at 7 p.m. Friday at Van Andel Arena.

It looked like the Griffins were going to take a two-goal lead into the third period, but former Griffin and Red Wing Derek Meech beat Mrazek with 43.2 seconds left to cut the deficit to 3-2.

Tomas Jurco, the hero in Game 3 who had a hat trick, left in the first period with an upper-body injury and did not return. Blashill said he is not sure if Jurco will practice tomorrow.

“When you lose a guy who is a really good player, you can either melt or you can become real resilient,” Blashill said. “I thought we became real resilient.”

Nestrasil filled in for Jurco on the top line with Mitch Callahan and Riley Sheahan.

“Me and Cally, we have good chemistry,” Nestrasil said. “We’ve played together since the beginning of the season — we started on the fourth line together.”

It was good to see Nestrasil step in place of Jurco. Teams don’t make deep playoff runs without some depth, and the Griffins showed when they lose their top scoring threat, other players can step up and contribute offensively.

Callahan had a glorious opportunity to stretch Grand Rapids’ lead to 4-2 early in the third period. Sheahan and Callahan had a shorthanded two-on-one opportunity, Sheahan made a nice pass to Callahan and Nilstorp robbed Callahan on the one-timer.

Nestrasil said the difference between the first two games in Texas and the last two in Grand Rapids was about taking away the Stars’ space.

“I just feel like the first two games, we gave them too much space,” he said. “They are a really fast team — they are flying all the time. I feel like the last two games, we took away their time and space and we bump them all the time and slow them down.”

All quotes were obtained firsthand.