Max Reinhart dominated the first period, but the Grand Rapids Griffins dominated the rest of the game.
Reinhart, the Abbotsford Heat‘s red-hot sophomore forward, bookended the first period with a pair of goals to stake the hosts to a 2-0 lead at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
But it was all Griffins from there – they out-shot the Heat 32-11 over the last 40 minutes, scoring five unanswered goals along the way in a 5-2 victory.
Pity poor Joey MacDonald – the Heat goalie was seeing his first game action since Jan. 25, having been sidelined by a concussion in the interim. He was essentially a sitting duck in a shooting gallery over the last two periods, but acquitted himself reasonably well under the circumstances.
“We hung him out to dry, just like we did Roysie (Olivier Roy) last night,” Heat captain Dean Arsene confessed afterward, making reference to Grand Rapids’ 4-3 shootout win on Friday to open the two-game set.
“They (the Griffins) do a great job in the offensive zone of forechecking, and in the neutral zone – they’re sound system-wise. We just had too many turnovers, and a skilled team like that in transition, they just ate us up.”
Reinhart opened the scoring just 1:23 into the contest, tipping Dean Arsene’s point shot past Grand Rapids goalie Tom McCollum.
He made it 2-0 with just 11.1 seconds left in the frame, playing give-and-go with linemate Corey Locke before picking the top corner from a sharp angle.
Reinhart’s shot appeared to take McCollum by surprise, and it also effectively ended his night, as Griffins coach Jeff Blashill gave him the hook in favour of Petr Mrazek to start the second period. McCollum’s final stat line featured two goals against on 10 shots in 20 minutes of action.
Mrazek had precious little to do over the last two periods, but the move seemed to spark the Griffins.
First, they dodged a bullet when Blair Jones, during a Heat power play early in the middle frame, banged a shot off the post from point-blank range off a feed from – who else? – Reinhart.
Within a couple of minutes, Andrej Nestrasil got the Griffins on the board, taking advantage of some sloppy play by Abbotsford in their defensive zone.
After the Heat advanced the puck to within an inch of the blue line on multiple occasions without clearing it out, Nestrasil claimed possession, walked in and ripped a top-corner wrister over MacDonald’s glove.
That was the only one of the Griffins’ 20 shots in the second period that got behind MacDonald, but the floodgates opened in the third.
Hope native Jeff Hoggan, the Grand Rapids captain, knotted the score at the 4:34 mark, sneaking one past MacDonald on a wrap-around.
David McIntyre gave the Griffins their first lead of the game just over four minutes later, converting a backdoor slap pass from D-man Nick Jensen, and Jordin Tootoo made it 4-2 on another top-corner snipe. Teemu Pulkkinen rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter.
The Griffins (35-17-5, 75 points) and Heat (33-18-6, 72 points) were tied at 71 points heading into the weekend series, but Grand Rapids extended Abbotsford’s losing streak to four games while reclaiming top spot in the Western Conference.
“We’ve been up and down since the All-Star break,” Hoggan said. “We were flat in the first (period) but stuck with it. It was a big win for us . . . that’s a good team over there.”
The Heat were without two of their better defencemen on Saturday – Chad Billins was recalled by the Calgary Flames after Friday’s game, and Chris Breen sat out due to illness, thus increasing the degree of difficulty against the reigning Calder Cup champs.
“We’ve just got to be patient – we’re not playing great,” head coach Troy Ward acknowledged. “We’ve got players who are playing out of position, some players who are playing way too many minutes for their posture right now, where they’re at in their game and their age. When that happens, it becomes tough.
“It eventually cost us this game.”
• Sven Baertschi notched his second straight multi-point game, assisting on both of Reinhart’s goals.
• The Heat made a trio of lineup changes on Saturday – Brady Lamb and John Ramage drew in on the blue line in place of Billins and Breen, while recent ECHL call-up Jordan Kremyr assumed Zach McKelvie’s duties on the fourth line.
• Up next for the Heat is a Tuesday-Wednesday set against the West Division-leading Texas Stars (33-16-8). Tuesday’s game is a 10:30 a.m. start – it’s the team’s annual school day game, played in front of thousands of students from the Abbotsford school district.
“It changes the way you prepare in the morning – you’ve got to get up earlier, get that good nutrition and that good mindset even when you’re a little sleepy,” Arsene said. “We’re going to take Monday and try to prepare like it’s a game day, and come ready to play Tuesday so it’s not so much of a shock to the system.”