Photo credit: @sjbarracuda
By Marko Ukalovic
SAN JOSE, Calif. — After a lackluster effort two nights ago, the San Jose Barracuda played like a desperate hockey team and took a another step forward in trying to clinch a playoff spot with a 3-1 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday evening at SAP Center.
Evan Weinger came in on a three-on-one and found a trailing Jayden Halbgewachs wide open in the middle of the slot and he fired a one timer past Griffins goalie Patrik Rybar for what proved to be the game winning goal at the 8:48 mark of the third period. It was his 12th goal of the season for Halbgewachs and snapped six-game goal-less drought for the speedy forward.
“Playing with a little desperation,” said Halbgewachs. “I mean we want to finish with a run here for second place. Going into the playoffs you gotta make a big push and it all starts right now.”
“Halbs (Halgewachs) has been snake-bit,” said Cuda head coach Roy Sommer. He’s been in the right spots but they haven’t been going in for him. So it was good to see he got rewarded (tonight).”
San Jose (36-21-3-4) drew first blood early in the first period on a four-on-three power play. Dylan Gambrell fed a pass from the high slot over to the left face-off circle to TJ Hensick, who quickly sent a cross-ice pass through the crease to a wide open Ivan Chekhovich, who blasted a one-timer it past the five-hole of Griffins goalie Patrik Rybar (16-14-5) for a tic-tac-toe goal at the 2:45 mark.
It was Chekhovich’s first goal of the season in his season debut with the Cuda since being called up following the conclusion of his third junior season at Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL.
“I feel really comfortable,” said Chekhovich after being back in the AHL. “Especially to score from the first shot in the first game. I’m pretty excited to be here.”
Chekhovich said the biggest difference between the juniors and the AHL is the speed of the game.
“You have to be aware and be faster. Every player up here are smart (and) you have to be ready.”
Cuda goalie Josef Korenar (22-8-2) was stellar in the opening 20 minutes. He came up with two big saves late in the period, while Grand Rapids was on the power play, including stopping a breakaway attempt by Wade Megan with under two minutes left.
“I just try to focus on the game,” said Korenar. “Breakaways happen, I think it was three of them tonight, but I stopped them. I like it when I get a lot of shots like in the first period.”
Grand Rapids (38-24-6-4) striked for the equalizer early in the second period. Libor Sulak skated down the right boards and threw the puck at the net that redirected off of Troy Loggins’ stick past Korenar for the rookie’s first career goal in his second game with the Griffins at the 4:06 mark.
San Jose outshot Grand Rapids by a slim margin of 10-9 in the middle frame, but headed into the second intermission tied up at 1-1.
Grand Rapids put on the pressure with Rybar pulled for an extra attacker with under a minute left in the final period and threw a flurry of shots at Korenar, who stood strong to close out the game without any further damage by the Griffins.
Kyle Wood iced the game with an unassisted empty-net goal with 34 seconds left for his sixth goal of the season.
“I wasn’t too happy about Wednesday (against San Diego),” said Cuda head coach Roy Sommer. “Too many passengers and not enough guys on the bus. But tonight different story. I thought all four lines contributed. Our goaltender was real good for us. We got a goal at the right time.”
Korenar made 24 saves on 25 shots to earn his 22nd win on the season. Rybar made 27 saves on 29 shots in suffering the defeat.
GAME NOTES: San Jose was 1/3 on the power play. Grand Rapids was 0/4.
Forward Lukas Radil was in the lineup for San Jose after being reassigned by the San Jose Sharks.
Cuda forward Jon Martin was not disciplined by the AHL for his major penalty for spearing on Wednesday night against San Diego. He was a healthy scratch tonight.
The announced attendance was 5,422.
UP NEXT: The Barracuda take on the Griffins in the home season finale on Saturday, April 6 at 1:15 pm at SAP Center.