Photo credit: @sjbarracuda
By Marko Ukalovic
SAN JOSE, Calif. — In a wild game that went back and forth between two teams looking ahead to the playoffs, the San Jose Barracuda came back from a two-goal deficit to win 5-4 in overtime over the Grand Rapids Griffins in the home season finale on Saturday afternoon at SAP Center.
With the win, San Jose now has 81 points on the season and not only are they four points ahead of San Diego for second place in the Pacific Division, but are also just two points behind Bakersfield for the top spot. If Colorado were to lose against Chicago later on tonight, San Jose would clinch its fourth consecutive playoff berth.
Antti Suomela led a three-on-one odd man rush after poking the puck away in the Cuda zone. He skated down to the left slot and sent a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Luaks Radil, who slammed a one-timer past Griffins goalie Pat Nagle (0-0-1), making his debut for Grand Rapids, for the game-winning goal and his fourth of the season at the 2:39 mark.
“It was really important for us to get the two wins (this weekend),” said Radil. “I feel like we have to keep going and keep working like that. (We have) three games left I think, then it’s (time for the) playoffs and we’ll see what happens.”
San Jose (36-21-3-4) drew first blood halfway through the first period. Ivan Chekhovich skated down the left boards and center a pass over to Dylan Gambrell, who chipped it in over Nagle for his 19th goal of the season at 10:56 mark. TJ Hensick received the secondary assist.
The Cuda line of Gambrell, Hensick and Chekhovich were the best offensive line this weekend as they were involved in three of the eight goals scored against Grand Rapids.
“I think tonight it really showed,” said Gambrell. “Just a lot of communication. We’re kind of finding each other, supporting each other really well. Hopefully we can continue to develop that chemistry.”
“They’ll bring you out on the ends of your seats,” said Cuda head coach Roy Sommer. “They got a lot of offense. They all think the game so well. It’s a pretty line to watch and could be a new line for us come playoff time. That looks like a line to be reckoned with.”
Grand Rapids (38-24-6-4) evened up the game on the power play toward the end of the opening 20 minutes. Axle Holmstrom was able clean up a rebound with a backhander past Cuda goalie Antoine Bibeau (14-13-5) on a shot by Colin Campbell for his 12th goal of the season at the 18:04 mark. Filip Zadina were credited with the secondary assist.
Shot were even at eight apiece between the two teams as they headed into the first intermission.
Grand Rapids took advantage of a five-on-three power play to take their first lead in the second period. Dennis Chowlowski sent a pass over to the left slot to Carter Camper who wristed a centering pass over to Chris Terry, who buried the puck past Bibeau for his team-leading 29th goal of the season at the 5:38 mark.
The Griffins went up 3-1 on a short-handed gift delivered by the Cuda. Zadina was able to chip the puck out of the their own zone that led to a breakaway opportunity for Campbell, who skated in and hit the crossbar with shot and . Defenseman Nick DeSimone tried to control the puck with his glove, but inadvertently knocked the puck into the net underneath Bibeau. Campbell was credited with an unassisted goal for his eighth of the season at the 12:54 mark.
The Cuda responded less than a minute later on the same power play. Cavan Fitzgerald sent a cross-ice pass from the right point over to the left, where Kyle Wood wired a shot off the pads of Nagle. Jayden Halbgewachs cashed in on the rebound just to the left of the crease for his 13th goal of the season at the 13:50 mark.
The Cuda scored the equalizer just over a minute to start the third period. Chekovich wont a battle along the right boards, fed a pass over to Gambrell who danced around back into the middle of the slot, and made a sweet back hand pass over to a wide-open Hensick who tapped in the puck into an empty net for his sixth goal of the season at the 1:10 mark.
Grand Rapids regained the lead on a delayed penalty call four minutes later. Giavani Smith sent a pass back to the point, where Libor Sulak rifled a shot top-shelf into the upper right corner past Bibeau for his fifth goal of the season at the 5:17 mark.
Once again, the Cuda would not go down gently. Captain John McCarthy won a battle behind the net, tipped a pass over to Halbgewachs, who centered the puck out in front of the crease, where Vladislav Kotkov was waiting and buried a point-blank shot past Nagle for his first-ever professional goal of his career at the 8:07 mark.
Bibeau finished the game with 25 saves on 29 shots to earn his 15th victory of the season. Nagle made 20 saves on 25 shots in his debut in suffering the defeat.
“The guys some character,” said Bibeau on how the team was able to come back and win. “(We) scored a power play goal. The third period was a wild period too but we found a way to stay on top so that’s all that matters.”
GAME NOTES: San Jose was 1/5 on the power play. It is the sixth straight game the Cuda have scored a power play goal. Grand Rapids was 2/4. It snapped a string of 24 consecutive penalty kills by San Jose over their past six games. San Jose’s penalty kill is now ranked 8th in the AHL.
San Jose went 3-0-1-0 against Grand Rapids this season and are 5-1-0-2 all time.
The announced attendance for the final home game of the regular season was 4,286.
UP NEXT: The Barracuda head down to San Diego on Wednesday, April 10 to take on the Gulls in a Pacific Division battle at 7:00 pm at Pechanga Arena.