Baertschi's Natural Hat Trick Gives Comets Series' Edge
by Mark Caswell, Jr.May 28, 2015
A natural hat-trick from Sven Baertschi, and a bounce back 40-save performance from Jacob Markstrom got the job done, as the Utica Comets defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-1 Thursday night at the Van Andel Arena. The win has now given the Comets a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals.
Sven Baertschi (3-0-3) scored his second hat trick of the year after recording his first earlier this year on February 10th with his prior team, the Adirondack Flames. Cory Conacher (1-0-1) also netted a goal for his second of the postseason. Jacob Markstrom recorded his first assist as a Utica Comet on top of stopping 40 of the 41 shots he faced.
“I liked Sven’s play tonight,” said Comets Head Coach Travis Green. “He was around the puck and carried the puck all night. When he carries the puck I know he’s playing well.”
After a scoreless first period, Sven Baertschi opened up the scoring with his first goal of the night just past the three-minute mark in the second stanza. Will Acton made an excellent heads up play in his first game back since March 21st, with a pass to Baertschi who met the puck at the blue line. Baertschi just had enough room to squeeze in past the defender and snapped off a shot that ripped past the left leg pad of Tom McCollum to give the Comets their first of the night. Wacey Hamilton recorded the secondary assist.
Baertschi’s next goal resulted from a goaltender interference penalty called on Xavier Ouellet for tripping up Markstrom behind his net. At 9:17 the Comets scored their third power-play goal of the series after Cal O’Reilly slid the puck across the center slot to Baertschi who ripped home the one-timer to make it a 2-0 game. Bobby Sanguinetti also made his way on to the scorer’s sheet for his seventh assist of the postseason.
Just over two minutes later, Baertschi’s natural hat-trick and Jake Virtanen’s first professional point became a reality after Virtanen shot the puck into McCollum’s chest and Baertschi backhanded the rebound for the 3-0 lead. Alex Friesen was also credited with an assist on the play.
Baertschi’s hat-trick was the first allowed in the playoffs by Grand Rapids in eight years and the first allowed at home in 13 years. His hat trick was the third time the feat has been achieved in Comets franchise history and the first in the playoffs.
It wasn’t until the Griffins third power-play attempt of the night when they finally solved Markstrom just past the four-minute mark into the third period. Jeff Hoggan set up a similar play to the Comets second goal after dishing a pass to the high center slot to Marek Tvrdon who then slapped it towards Markstrom and through the pads to make it a 3-1 game.
The Comets added one last goal to the scoreboard with less than five minutes left in the game as Cory Conacher raced in on the left wing and drove the puck into the net before running into the right goal post and causing a disturbance in the crease. Peter Andersson recorded the primary assist while Markstrom recorded the secondary point for his first assist in a Comets sweater.
With a win in Game 3 and the series lead, the Comets have now reclaimed home-ice advantage if necessary. Before heading back to The Utica Memorial Auditorium, the Comets have two games remaining in Grand Rapids with Game 4 slated for Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Van Andel Arena.
Three Stars: 1. UTI – Sven Baertschi (3 Goals) 2. UTI – Jacob Markstrom (24 Saves, 1 Assist, Win) 3. GR – Marek Tvrdon (1 Goal)
Grand Ol’ Time: The Western Conference Finals have now shifted to the Midwest with the series knotted at one game apiece. Games 3,4, and 5 are all being held at the Van Andel Arena, the home of the Griffins and the action starts tonight at 7 p.m.
All eyes will be on the top two seeds in the Western Conference as this series is the only one actively left in the American Hockey League’s Conference Finals. The top seed in the East, the Manchester Monarchs, completed a four-game sweep over the Hartford Wolfpack on Wednesday night and await the winner of the Comets-Griffins series.
Previously on COMETS TV: Game 2 didn’t go exactly as planned for the Utica hockey club as they saw themselves trailing by four goals at the end of the second period. After the Comets scored two consecutive goals in the third, the Griffins were able to hold off the Comets offensive efforts and take the 4-2 win to tie up the series 1-1.
In Rapid Succession: The last four goals of Monday night’s game at The AUD were all scored on the power play. The Griffins scored their two power-play goals within 3:10 at the end of the second and ironically enough the Comets scored their two power-play goals within the same amount of time at the end of the third period.
Who to watch – Griffins: The rookie, Dylan Larkin (2-0-2) had one of the most important games of his young career as he went on to score two goals on Monday night, the first of which being his first professional goal. The Griffins centerman was also named the first star of the game.
Who to watch – Comets: Jacob Markstrom has been the Comets rock in net during the entire playoffs when followed by a loss. He has a 5-0 record when losing the game before with a .964 save percentage in his follow-up games. His goals-against average (0.95) in games following losses suggest a big game is on tap for the Swedish netminder.
Acton Reaction: The AHL announced today that Brandon DeFazio has been suspended for two games as a consequence of an interference incident in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals playoff series vs. Grand Rapids on May 25.
As a result, fans might get to see the return of Will Acton who has been out of the lineup since March 21st. In the 45 games Acton played for the Comets this season he recorded 11 goals and eight assists for a total of 19 points.
Complete Coverage: Can’t listen to Brendan Burke or watch the game on AHL Live? No problem! Just follow us on @UticaComets or @CometsInGame on Twitter and we’ve got you covered with live up to the minute updates and instant videos of all the Comets goals.
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Back-to-Back: There won’t be anymore travel for the teams, but Game 4 is starts less than 24 hours from the finish of tonight’s Game 3 at the Van Andel Arena.