ROCHESTER, Minn. – The Rochester Grizzlies found themselves in a competitive tilt Monday afternoon against the Coulee Region Chill. The Grizzlies had not played in just over a week after having two games postponed this past weekend, and the Chill were riding a three-game win streak into Monday’s game. After a back-and-forth game for the most part, Rochester stormed back for three unanswered goals in the third period and defeated the Chill 5-2 on home ice. This marks the third straight win for Rochester.
The Grizzlies and Chill were meeting for the fourth out of eight times this season, with Rochester holding the season series 2-1. The two Central Division rivals will play the final four games within the last month and a half of the regular season.
Rochester stormed out in the first period, peppering Chill goalie Michael Janke with shot after shot. Janke made some ten bell saves during the first to keep the Grizzlies off the board. Rochester put 16 shots on Janke while Mathias Backstrom only faced two. The Grizzlies’ penalty kill stood tall in the first after killing off both of the Chill power plays.
The action started in the second period as Coulee Region turned up its pressure. However, it would be Jesper Hofling finding the back of the net first for either team. Michael Heitkamp made a great backhand pass to Hofling, who was cutting to the net, and the Swede tapped home his seventh goal of the season to break the scoreless tie. The score would remain 1-0 Rochester until just over the 15 minute mark when Gadel Khismatullin knocked home a rebound passed a sprawled out Backstrom to tie the game. Porter Haney would get it back for Rochester just over a minute later with his 12th of the season. Haney had two good chances on the same shift but Janke stopped them. He would get a third chance and instead of shooting it initially, he elected to hold the puck and tucked it inside the post, making it 2-1 Grizzlies with just over three to go in the second.
Coulee Region would not go away quietly. Just 37 seconds into the third period, Marco Escobar jammed a loose puck past Backstrom to tie the game at two with his 18th of the season. Backstrom showed frustration after the goal, trying to explain to the referees he had the puck covered. It would remain 2-2 for about half of the third period, before Heitkamp caught a break for Rochester. The defenseman received a feed from Bryar Flanders and put it on net. It was a rare lapse in the game for Janke, as the puck managed to just trickle past the red line to give the Grizzlies a 3-2 lead at 10:34 of the third. Hofling added the secondary assist on the goal.
The Chill would not be able to tie the game after that, as Nic Leisen doubled the lead for Rochester with his his eighth of the season coming at 15:52 of the third period. The goal game while Rochester was shorthanded, which marked the 12th shorthanded goal for the Grizzlies this season. Lucas Newman shot the puck and, while Janke, made a pad save, the rebound went right to Leisen. Devin Hays added an empty net goal with 11 seconds left to cap off the afternoon for the Grizzlies.
Backstrom earned his 12th win of the season and is now 12-3 with a 1.45 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. Rochester is now 26-6-1 and sitting on top of the Central Division with 53 points. The Grizzlies and Chill were the lone game on the schedule in the North American 3 Hockey League for Monday, so as of now, Rochester has a six point lead on St. Louis for first place in the division.
The Grizzlies have two more home games coming up this weekend, Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is a 7 PM start time against the Wausau RiverWolves. Saturday is a Saturday Night Showdown sponsored by Sterling State Insurance Agency as the Grizzlies square off with a West Division powerhouse in the Granite City Lumberjacks. Puck drop for that game is set for 7 PM, as well.