The Utica Comets are one win away from clinching a spot in the Calder Cup Finals and claiming the Western Conference title after defeating the Grand Rapids Griffins 3-2 Sunday evening at The Van Andel Arena.
Wacey Hamilton (1-0-1), Hunter Shinkaruk, (1-0-1), and Bobby Sanguinetti (1-0-1) first period goals would hold up for the Comets, who know hold a 3-2 series lead. Brendan Gaunce (0-2-2) (pictured above) handed out great opportunities to his teammates with two assists on the night for a total of five this postseason. Jacob Markstrom saw his 10th win of the postseason after making 32 stops including a highlight reel stick save.
“”It wasn’t our best game but we managed to get it done,” said Comets captain Cal O’Reilly. “We grinded out a greasy win tonight.”
It was a busy first period for the Comets as they quickly found three goals within the first 12 minutes. Hamilton kicked it off at 2:14 after he redirected a shot by Gaunce that slipped past McCollum’s short side for the early lead. Mike Zalewski was credited with the secondary assist.
About two minutes later, the Griffins took advantage of their first power play of the night and Mark Zengerle sniped the puck through some traffic after collecting the rebound for the equalizer. Tyler Bertuzzi recorded the only assist on the play after taking the initial shot on Markstrom.
From there, the Comets showed no mercy and answered back at 6:07 with a nice touch in front by Shinkaruk who discovered the puck skipping around in the blue paint after a shot from Brandon DeFazio. The Comets then transformed their one-goal lead into a two-goal lead after Sanguinetti sniped a shot directly past the McCollum’s glove hand and into the top right hand corner of the net at 11:47.
The Comets had a long way to go with a 3-1 lead after the first period and the Griffins made it clear they weren’t going to roll over. Just 56 seconds prior to the end of the second the Griffins’ power play struck for the second time in the game. Dylan Larkin scored his third goal of his professional career after he spiked the puck into the net from a close angle at the bottom of the right circle. Both Jeff Hoggan and Xavier Ouellet assisted on the Griffins power-play goal that made the score 3-2.
After giving the Griffins a total of five power-play opportunities through the first two periods, the Comets refrained from taking any more penalties during the third period which helped them walk away with the 3-2 win and the series lead.
In the second period Markstrom made a highlight reel save as he denied a Ryan Sproul shot with the paddle of his stick. Sproul, all alone on the far side, had a rebound kick directly to him. Markstrom, in a last ditch effort, stuck out his stick and swatted it away from the gaping net to keep the Comets then two-goal lead.
“Markstrom was big-time tonight,” said Head Coach Travis Green. “This time of the year you want your goalie to be at his best, and he was.”
With a 2-3-2 series format, the Comets have now finished their three game stint in Grand Rapids and will return to The Utica Memorial Auditorium in hopes of closing the series out in Game 6 of the Conference Finals this Tuesday.