Despite already having reserved their spot in the Calder Cup playoffs, the San Antonio Rampage duked it out with the Grand Rapids Griffins for bragging rights and a chance to clinch the division.
While the game had seemingly little significance on the surface due to the Rampages’ prior reservations in the playoffs, the result ultimately would affect the point standings in the Western Conference—where the Rampage hope to reserve the first spot and obtain home ice advantage.
Because of their standing, there was a noticeable shift in the Rampage plan of action. That is, unlike the vast majority of regular season games where the Rampage offensive finesse is second only to their overall physicality, Saturday’s game proved different, whereby the Rampage noticeably toned down their physical presence—perhaps in an attempt to preserve themselves for the Calder Cup.
And their strategy paid off. In addition to peppering Grand Rapids’ goalie Tom McCollum with 35 shots throughout the game, the Rampage also greatly reduced their time in the penalty box—totaling just six minutes for the entire game. In doing so, the Rampage limited whistles, remained fresh and constantly pressured the Griffins.
While the first period proved somewhat uneventful on the scoring card, first liners Connor Brickley, Quinton Howden and Rocco Grimaldi led several scoring chances that dictated the pace of the game and invariably continued into the second period. Conversely, the Griffins peaked offensively early on in the game, and were unable to hoist that momentum for later periods of play.
After outshooting the Griffins 13-5 in the first, Rampage scoring opportunities persisted and pinnacled when Quinton Howard capitalized on a garbage goal midway through the second period after Connor Brickley wristed a rebounder off of the Griffins’ goaltender.
While the Rampage again outshot the Griffins 16-9 in the second, the Griffins attempted to rally in the third, increasing their physicality, scoring chances, and holding the Rampage to just six shots on net. However, this merely proved ineffective once again when winger Garrett Wilson deflected home his 22nd goal of the season off of a wrist shot by defenseman Greg Zanon.
With just 2:55 seconds left in the third period, Michael Matheson drew a delay of game penalty, which opened a glimmer of hope for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Upon the penalty call, the Griffins promptly pulled goalie Tom McCollum, giving them a 6-4 advantage. Indeed, the last few minutes of the game proved not only to be the most tense, but also the most physical, as tensions flared out of enthusiasm and desperation.
The two teams will battle it out once again tonight, as the Rampage try to preserve their lead in the Western Conference division before the playoffs.