DES MOINES, Iowa – There is no doubt that Dmitry Sokolov has a flair for the dramatic. For the second time in less that a week, the Iowa Wild forward scored the game winner in extra time, helping his team to a 4-3 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins. Sokolov had the shootout winner a week ago in Ontario. Will Bitten remained red hot, scoring two goals to give him eight points in his last four games.
The Griffins looked like they had taken the lead less than two minutes into the contest. A bad giveaway gave Grand Rapids the puck in the Iowa end. The puck was sent back to Dennis Cholowski, who fired a shot that hit off the post and bounced away, keeping the game scoreless early.
At the 7:34 mark, the Griffins were on a power play when Connor Dewar was able to gain control of an errant pass. He led a 2-on-1 the other way, taking a shot that Pat Nagle saved, but the puck came right to Bitten, who redirected it in for his sixth goal of the season. That was the sixth short-handed goal of the season for Iowa.
Kaapo Kahkonen had a number of great saves following the goal, but none was bigger than with about five minutes left in the frame. A pass from the boards came right to Matt Puempel in front of the net. He was all alone for a point blank shot, but the Iowa netminder quickly slid into position to knock away the redirection.
Grand Rapids outshot Iowa 12-9 in the first, but came away without a goal. However, that changed in the second as they scored on their first shot of the period. At 1:15, Chris Terry made a great feed out of his end, catching Puempel just before he entered the Wild zone. Puempel carried the puck in on a 2-on-1 break, then fed Taro Hirose, who beat Kahkonen with a blistering wrist shot over the shoulder.
Just 78 seconds later, Grand Rapids took the lead thanks to a terrible giveaway. Brennan Mennell had the puck in the corner of his own end. He looked to make a pass to a teammate in front of the net, but did not see Eric Tangardi, who intercepted the pass and then beat Kahkonen to make it 2-1 Griffins.
About eight minutes into the frame, Hunter Warner kept this from becoming a two-goal Grand Rapids lead. The shot on Kahkonen squeaked through his legs and was sliding toward the net when Warner quickly swept in and was able to knock it away before it crossed the goal line.
Grand Rapids was dominating much of the play, but the Wild tied the score thanks to their relentless forecheck. Matt Bartkowski was able to knock the puck to Colton Beck, who made a great behind the back pass to Kyle Rau. Rau fired a laser over the shoulder of Nagle for his sixth goal of the season, tying the score at two.
Grand Rapids outshot Iowa 22-14 through the first two periods, and were continuing to do so into the third when they took seven of the first nine shots. That helped the Griffins retake the lead at the nine-minute mark. Grand Rapids won the faceoff in the Wild end. Puempel gained control of the puck near the blue line, then passed it to Turner Elson along the boards. He fired a shot that Terry tipped up and into the corner of the net for his 13th tally of the year, giving the Griffins their second lead of the game.
With a little less than four minutes left in the contest, Bitten struck again. With Iowa on the power play, Menell made a nice play at the blue line to keep the puck in the Grand Rapids end. He then moved down the right boards near the corner before firing a pass to Bitten in the slot. The Wild forward drilled a one-timer past Nagle to tie the score at three.
That gave Bitten five goals and three assists in his last four games. Rau earned an assist on the play, giving him at least one helper in six straight games and at least one point in his last eight contests.
The game went to overtime, where it was an incredible turn of events that led to the game-winning goal for the Wild. With about a minute left in the extra frame, Terry gained control of the puck after a shot by the Wild went wide. He went the other way on a breakaway, but was stoned by Kahkonen on a great pad save.
The rebound came right to Gerald Mayhew, who led a 2-on-1 break the other way. When he got about 15 feet from the goal, he dished it to Sokolov, who buried the one-timer, giving the Iowa Wild their fourth victory in their last five games.
After the game, Mayhew discussed the game-winning goal.
“I saw him coming. I was going to pass it the whole way. I was gassed and he made a great play.”
With their victory on Saturday, the Wild moved ahead of the Rockford IceHogs in the Central Division standings to claim sole possession of second place. Iowa (16-11-4) is now off until Friday when they take on Rockford (17-11-1) on the road. The puck drops at 7:00 CST.
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