Stephanie Sokol for The Pit
In the 10th round of Saturday’s shootout, Nathan Paetsch delivered a game-winning shot into the left side of the net, allowing the Grand Rapids Griffins to defeat the Hamilton Bulldogs 2-1 in a tough game at the Van Andel Arena.
Paetsch led the Griffins ahead to the win, following Tom McCollum and Hamilton’s Dustin Tokarski each blocking eight of their first nine shots.
The game started with the first point earned after a tie following regulation, when the Griffins (45-21-2-4, 96 pt.s) earned a top-four playoff seed and home ice in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, though they will face road tests Thursday and Sunday in Charlotte before versing Lake Erie in the regular season home final Friday, April 18.
Andrej Nestrasil, who was honored March’s Huntington Player of the Month award before faceoff, scored the first goal 3:03 into the game, moving in front of Tokarski to redirect Paetsch’s shot into the left post.
After 40 more minutes, the Bulldogs (31-33-1-6) tied with a power play, as Maxime Macenauer sent the puck through McCollum’s skate into the post.
When 5:40 was left in the game, Hamilton’s Drew Schietstel was taking off the ice on a double-minor for high-sticking Louis-Marc Aubry, but the Griffins, who possessed the puck, did not gain points during the four-minute power play.
While the game progressed, Grand Rapids still could not get the puck past Tokarski, despite a 5-1 shot advantage. Out of the 18 shooters in the skills competition, Teemu Pulkkinen in round four and Hamilton’s Patrick Holland in the fifth round were able to score shots past the tough goalies. McCollum had 22 saves at the end of the game, and Tokarski had 36 in the tough loss.
The game’s high attendance of 10,006 in addition to the pre-sale for the April 18 home finale will leave the Griffins finishing the season with their highest average attendance since the ’99-’00 season, which was only at 8,819, in addition to this being their first attendance over 8,000 since ’00-’01.