GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Tomas Jurco registered the sixth playoff hat trick in franchise history while Cory Emmerton and Teemu Pulkkinen also enjoyed three-point nights, leading the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 5-2 victory over the Texas Stars on Tuesday at Van Andel Arena.
Now trailing 1-2 in the best-of-seven series, the Griffins will try to maintain the home teams’ perfect series record when they host Game 4 on Wednesday and Game 5 on Friday. Faceoff each night is at 7 p.m. EDT.
Jurco snapped the Griffins’ scoreless streak at 102:46 early in the opening period, notching Grand Rapids’ first goal since his own lamp-lighter during the second period of Game 1. Jurco dug the puck out from behind the net and quickly jammed a wraparound inside the right post at the 7:06 mark.
About four minutes later, Jurco sprang out of the penalty box, won a fight for the puck and skated in alone on Jack Campbell, but he lost control in close before he could get a shot off. He eventually tallied that second goal less than seven minutes after his first, taking a backdoor pass from Riley Sheahan and beating Campbell from below the right circle at 13:44.
Following intermission, Andrej Nestrasil needed just 25 seconds to push the Griffins’ lead to 3-0, as he took a slick backward centering pass from Pulkkinen and solved Campbell from the slot.
Deft puck-handling by Emmerton led to a signature Pulkkinen rocket, the Griffins’ fourth goal and a bit of rest for Campbell 8:23 into the frame, as Emmerton skated around a defender before dropping a pass to Pulkkinen for a blistering slap shot from the top of the right circle.
Christopher Nilstorp, who blanked Grand Rapids on 30 saves in Game 2, entered the contest and nearly witnessed his squad get on the board, but an apparent Stars goal at the 11:06 mark was quickly waved off by the referee due to incidental contact with goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Jurco finished off the Griffins’ first playoff hat trick in more than seven years with 3:53 remaining in the period. Following hard work by Mitch Callahan and Sheahan to keep control of the puck deep in the Texas zone, Sheahan found Jurco all alone to the right of the net for Grand Rapids’ first three-goal playoff performance since Matt Ellis did the deed on April 21, 2007 at Manitoba.
Jurco’s three goals and Sheahan’s two assists gave each of them 20 career playoff points, tying them with Jan Mursak for ninth place on the franchise’s all-time playoff scoring list.
With Campbell back between the Stars’ pipes to start the third, the visitors quickly made things interesting. Former Griffin Mike Hedden ruined Mrazek’s shutout bid on a partial breakaway 2:24 into the period, lifting the puck over the netminder’s blocker, before Brendan Ranford tallied his fourth goal of the series by whipping a shot home from the slot at 5:47.
The Griffins denied the Stars’ mighty power-play unit after Nick Jensen was whistled off for delay of game at 6:08 then held firm the rest of the way, despite Texas’ 12-3 shot advantage over the final 20 minutes.
Mrazek, who passed Jimmy Howard into sole possession of first place among Griffins goalies with his 31st career playoff game, finished with 35 saves. Campbell stopped 15 of 19 shots in the loss, while Nilstorp turned aside two of three in relief.
GAME NOTES: Thanks to the win, the Griffins still have not lost three consecutive games in regulation all season, through 83 regular season and playoff contests. … In two seasons under coach Jeff Blashill, the Griffins are now 10-2 when they’re within two losses of playoff elimination. … Of the 285 teams in AHL history that trailed 1-2 in a best-of-seven, 75 (26.3 percent) went on to win the series. The last team to accomplish the feat was the 2013 Griffins against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. … The attendance of 4,293 represented an increase of 57 percent over the Griffins’ crowd for Game 3 of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals against Toronto (2,738).
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