GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Abbotsford Heat entered Game 4 looking to extend the Western Conference quarterfinals to a winner-take-all contest, but Jeff Hoggan’s first two-goal playoff performance as a Griffin snuffed out the visitors’ hopes and powered Grand Rapids to a series-clinching 5-3 win on Friday before 7,641 at Van Andel Arena.
Hoggan also had an assist while Mattias Backman, Landon Ferraro and Teemu Pulkkinen all registered two-point nights, as the defending Calder Cup champions won their fifth consecutive playoff series to advance to the conference semifinals. Grand Rapids will face either the top-seeded Texas Stars or third-seeded Toronto Marlies in a best-of-seven matchup.
The opponent and dates for the next series will be announced at the conclusion of Sunday’s 4 p.m. EDT contest between the Chicago Wolves and Rochester Americans. A Chicago win would pair the Griffins with the regular-season champion Stars, while a Rochester victory would pit Grand Rapids against Toronto in Round 2 for the second straight year.
The Heat began the evening on a high note, striking for the only goal of the opening period at the 14:21 mark. Off a faceoff win in the Griffins’ zone, Shane O’Brien collected a pass at the right point and teed up a slap shot that sailed into the top of Petr Mrazek’s net.
The Griffins outshot the Heat by a 9-1 count in the early going of the second period, a dominance that paid off during a power play when Pulkkinen connected on a one-timer from the top of the left circle at 7:26 for his second goal of the series. Hoggan gave Grand Rapids a 2-1 lead just 2:23 later, taking advantage of a scrambling Abbotsford defense to slip a David McIntyre feed past Joni Ortio from the right of the net.
Abbotsford staunched the bleeding with a timeout before answering with the tying goal at 13:16, when Kane Lafranchise took a backdoor pass from Max Reinhart, beat his defender and slipped a backhand past Mrazek. But the Griffins’ captain responded with his second goal in less than 10 minutes to again give Grand Rapids the lead at 3-2, as Hoggan crashed the crease to jam home a rebound with 33.4 seconds left on the clock.
Less than three minutes into the third, Ortio made a huge point-blank save on Nick Jensen to keep the Heat’s deficit at one. Soon after, the teams exchanged power-play goals in under a minute, with Riley Sheahan (4:51) and Markus Granlund (5:46) both scoring from the slot to make it a 4-3 Griffins advantage.
Backman made perhaps a series-saving play for the Griffins during a power play with about four minutes remaining. Mrazek raced out to the blue line for a loose puck and was left far out of position when Granlund eventually gathered the wayward disc and shot it toward the net, but Backman dove to knock it harmlessly into the left corner.
Ferraro scored into an empty net from a sharp angle at 19:47 to seal the victory and the series.
Mrazek made 24 saves in his 28th consecutive playoff start for the Griffins and Ortio finished with 31 stops.
GAME NOTES: The crowd of 7,641 was the ninth-largest in Griffins playoff history (61 home games). … The Griffins improved to 5-12 all-time at home when their opponent faces elimination. Three of those wins have come in their last five series. … This marked the final game of the Abbotsford Heat franchise and the second straight year that the Griffins brought the curtain down on an AHL team in Round 1. Last season, Grand Rapids won a five-game series against the Houston Aeros, who subsequently moved to Des Moines and became the Iowa Wild.
THREE STARS: 1. GR Jeff Hoggan (two goals, assist); 2. ABB Markus Granlund (power-play goal, assist); 3. GR Teemu Pulkkinen (power-play goal, assist).
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