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Griffins push Heat to brink of elimination with dominant 7-2 victory
by Dan Kinvig and Victoria Gill
If this was the last time that Abbotsford hockey fans will see the Heat play on home ice, it was an ignominious finale.
The Grand Rapids Griffins thumped the Heat 7-2 at Abbotsford Centre on Saturday night in Game 2 of their best-of-five first-round playoff series.
The Detroit Red Wings affiliate out-shot the hosts 46-17, chased Abby starting goalie Joni Ortio just past the midway point of the second period, and boasted a 10-3 edge in power plays.
The Heat, who dominated much of Friday's series opener only to lose 2-1 in double-overtime, now find themselves down two games to none.
They face a tough path to extend their season – the next three games are at Grand Rapids' home rink, Van Andel Arena, and the defending Calder Cup champions have a chance to complete the sweep in Game 3 on Wednesday (4 p.m. Pacific time).
"On Friday, we played a great team game," Heat head coach Troy Ward analyzed. "On Saturday, we played a poor individual game.
"We knew we'd have adversity in this series, and instead of sticking to the team plan, we became individuals."
The game ended in contentious fashion, as Grand Rapids defenceman Brennan Evans drilled Heat forward Josh Jooris into the boards at the final buzzer, sparking a melee with Evans and Abby captain Dean Arsene in the middle of it.
Ward, meanwhile, was hot under the collar on the bench, exchanging pleasantries with his Grand Rapids counterpart Jeff Blashill and others.
The Heat coach said his quarrel wasn't with Blashill, but with an individual on the Griffins bench whom he described as "a video/statistician guy."
"He was looking at our bench like we caused the problem, when Evans just about took Jooris's head off," said Ward, adding that the same staffer had words with the Heat bench at the end of a regular season game between the two teams in January in Abbotsford. "When you're a video/statistician guy sitting on the bench all night, you have no right to challenge our team.
"Jeff Blashill's a classy guy. I have all the respect in the world for him. He just tried to come down and defuse the situation between the two of us."
Afterward, with a lengthy players-only meeting ongoing, the Heat cancelled their post-game press conferences.
Ward spoke with The News on Sunday and said it wasn't his directive, terming it "disappointing."
"There's no hiding in this business," he said. "There should have been an interview process."
The Griffins carried the play from the outset on Saturday, out-shooting Abbotsford 21-7 in the first period, but the Heat held the lead on two occasions.
Rookie winger Emile Poirier, who was initially set to be a healthy scratch but was a late addition to the lineup with Corban Knight feeling under the weather, opened the scoring at 7:40 of the opening frame.
Max Reinhart's initial shot was saved by Grand Rapids goalie Petr Mrazek, but the quick rebound shot by Poirier was too much for the Griffins netminder to handle.
The visitors tied the game at the 10:13 mark, as Mattias Janmark found Trevor Parkes who deflected the puck by Ortio just after a Griffins power play expired.
Reinhart restored the Heat lead on a lucky bounce, as his centring pass for Ben Hanowski during a man advantage banked in off Evans's skate.
But just over half a minute later, Andrej Nestrasil tipped in a one-timer by Game 1 OT hero Ryan Sproul to tie the score once again.
And with 36 seconds remaining in the opening frame, the Griffins took their first lead via a shorthanded marker, as Cory Emmerton got past the Heat defenders and chipped the puck past Ortio.
"Even though (the final score) was 7-2, I thought it was lost in the first period," Ward said. "We weren't emotionally attached . . . we just didn't compete. We scored goals and we gave up goals, basically, the next shift."
Hoggan doubled the lead early in the second period, beating Ortio glove side with a wrist shot.
Nestrasil ended Ortio's night, snapping a bad-angle shot that fooled the Abby goalie at 11:19 of the second. Ortio gave way to Doug Carr after stopping 25 of 30 shots.
Shortly after entering the game, Carr faced a penalty shot by Andreas Athanasiou, but the young Grand Rapids forward whiffed on his shot.
The Griffins were granted five power-play chances in the third, and Sproul and Teemu Pulkkinen scored with the man advantage to seal the deal.
“We just concentrated on shooting pucks, like that last goal we got in overtime (on Friday),” said Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan. “Everyone was a bit fatigued so we wanted to come out early and put them on their heels. Pucks just started going in and they lost a little bit of their fire. We just never let up.”
“The series is not over,” asserted Nestrasil, whose two goals and an assist earned him first star honours. “It’s 2-0 and it’s never over until three."
Ward echoed those sentiments, despite the fact the Griffins figure to be an even tougher foe in Game 3 with reinforcements from their NHL parent club. Forwards Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan, defenceman Xavier Ouellet and goalie Jake Paterson were assigned to Grand Rapids after the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
"This excites me even more," Ward said. "I want to play their best. I want to see where we stand.
"It's not going to be an easy task, but we're not that fearful of it.
"It's like I always say: How to you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
– with files from Alex Joehl