The Afternoon Shift – March 22

The express elevator, no doubt

On Sunday evening, for the first time since Nov. 18, the question that begins “If the playoffs started today…” had a positive answer for the Griffins. And for the first time since Veterans Day, Grand Rapids now sits just two points out of first place in the North Division.

The Griffins’ 5-3 win over Rockford on Sunday vaulted them over Hamilton and into third place — the final guaranteed playoff spot in the North — for the first time in four months. The Bulldogs have two games in hand on Grand Rapids, but it’s the Griffins who own all the momentum.

Grand Rapids is 9-1-1-0 in its last 11, 11-2-1-0 in its last 14, 12-2-1-2 in its last 17, and 13-3-1-3 in its last 20, having played the last quarter-season’s worth of games at a 0.750 clip. Hamilton, meanwhile, has lost two straight, three of four and four of six, while missing Curtis Sanford, the AHL’s No. 2-ranked netminder who’s out for the season due to a shoulder injury, along with their top five scorers, who are all with the parent Montreal Canadiens.

Remarkably, Grand Rapids needed just 10 games and 17 days (March 4-20) to move from seventh to third in the North, leap-frogging over Rochester, Abbotsford, Toronto and Hamilton. Since sitting in last place, the Griffins have fired off an 8-1-1-0 record during their “March” to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

With 80 points, the Griffins (35-26-2-8) stand just two points behind North Division co-leaders Manitoba and Lake Erie, but also only one point ahead of Hamilton, two ahead of Toronto and three in front of Abbotsford. They’ll conclude their five-game, eight-day homestand Wednesday against the Marlies, in another of a seemingly endless string of critical contests. After that, Grand Rapids will play seven of its final eight regular season games on the road.

Before signing off, a quick tip o’ the hat to Joey MacDonald, who entered last night’s Red Wings game in the second period with Pittsburgh leading 4-0 and stoned the Penguins the rest of the way, enabling Detroit to rally for a point in a 5-4 shootout loss. Counting back to the waning minutes of a 3-1 loss at San Jose on March 3, MacDonald has posted an impressive shutout streak of 94:04, stopping all 47 shots he faced during that span. 

Today’s Griffins links:

AHL/opponent links:

Alumni news and notes:

Video – NHL alumni goals:

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