HAMILTON, Ont. — The penalties were too many and too easily taken for the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday.
Grand Rapids scored three goals on eight power-play opportunities, as the Griffins defeated the Bulldogs 4-1 in the American Hockey League.
Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre was terse after his team’s loss, and explained that his players simply made too many mistakes to win.
“There’s a reason that we lost the game tonight,” said Lefebvre. “Robert Mayer gave us a chance to win and we took stupid penalty after stupid penalty.
“You can’t win games if you end up in the box all night, especially not against that team.”
Bulldog winger Mike Blunden agreed with his coach’s assessment, and argued that the penalties put undue strain on a team that was playing in its third game in three days.
“That’s one thing that we can’t do and one thing that we’ll have to learn from,” said Blunden of the parade to the penalty box.
“With three games in three days, guys are tired, and that’s just something that you can’t do. It drains our bench. They beat us on a couple of plays down low and that’s unfortunate.”
Riley Sheahan had the winner for the Griffins (35-19-4), while Chad Billins, Gustav Nyquist and Jeff Hogan also scored.
Tom McCollum made 21 saves as Grand Rapids recorded its fourth consecutive win.
Blunden scored the lone goal for the Bulldogs (24-29-6) and Mayer stopped 44 of 48 shots in a losing effort.
The winger admitted that he and his teammates sympathized with their goaltenders, who have been put to the test over the span of the team’s busy weekend.
Sunday marked the second consecutive game in which Mayer faced more than 45 shots.
“I do feel bad for our goalies,” said Blunden. “They’ve been outstanding and it’s not their fault at all that we haven’t won these games. It comes down to us.
“We gave up quite a few shots and [Mayer] was there for us all night and played unbelievably well. It was just too bad that we couldn’t get the win for him.”
The Bulldogs had finally found a goal to tie the game 1-1 early in the third period, but the Griffins quickly retook the lead for good with their second power-play goal of the evening.
Luke Glendening was whistled for goaltender interference at 1:01, and Hamilton scored on its first opportunity of the ensuing power play.
Joey Tenute cycled the puck to Nathan Beaulieu at the point, and the defenceman stepped up to the top of the circle and fired a high slap shot that Blunden tipped past McCollum.
Just four minutes later, Philippe Lefebvre’s minor penalty for hooking was set to expire when Gustav Nyquist moved the puck to Sheahan on the right wing. He released a low shot from inside the circle that dribbled through Mayer’s pads at 5:17 of the third.
The Griffins got an insurance goal at 16:43 when Nyquist corralled a cross-ice pass in the high slot and elevated a one-time shot past the outstretched glove of Mayer.
Seventeen seconds later, Hogan put the result to rest as he sped in over the blue-line on the left wing and fired a high slap shot that eluded Mayer on the far side.
Mayer provided an early highlight with his team killing a penalty a minute into the first period. With the Griffins cycling the puck on the power play, Nathan Paetsch took a stride in from the blue-line and released a heavy slap shot that Mayer gracefully picked out of the air.
But he would not be so fortunate as the penalty wound to a close.
Billins opened the scoring with his team’s power play about to expire at 2:48 of the first.
He and Sheahan controlled the puck in the high slot, and when Sheahan’s initial shot was blocked back into play by Mayer, Billins snapped the rebound high and past the goaltender’s outstretched glove.
Mayer single-handedly kept his team within striking distance in the second, and produced a stellar sliding save halfway through the period with his team killing its fifth penalty of the evening.
A cross-ice pass came to Francis Pare in the low slot to Mayer’s right, but the goaltender moved to meet it and deflected Pare’s shot to safety from the butterfly stance.