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Grand Rapids Griffins posit exhaustive Griffins-Stars playoff preview

The Grand Rapids Griffins will open their second-round playoff series against the Texas Stars tomorrow, and the Griffins' PR department sets the stage with a massive series preview:

Game 1 – Thu., May 8 – GRIFFINS at Stars – 8:30 p.m.
Game 2 – Sat., May 10 – GRIFFINS at Stars – 8 p.m.
Game 3 – Tue., May 13 – Stars at GRIFFINS – 7 p.m. (Home Game C)
Game 4 – Wed., May 14 – Stars at GRIFFINS – 7 p.m. (Game D)
*Game 5 – Fri., May 16 – Stars at GRIFFINS – 7 p.m. (Game E)

*Game 6 – Sun., May 18 – GRIFFINS at Stars – 8 p.m.
*Game 7 – Mon., May 19 – GRIFFINS at Stars – 8:30 p.m.

* If necessary. All times are Eastern and subject to change. All games on  WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM and AHLLive.com.

First Time for Everything: This marks the first Calder Cup Playoff meeting between Grand Rapids and Texas. The Griffins won the season series by a 3-1 margin, sweeping both meetings at Van Andel Arena (5-4 W on Nov. 29, 5-1 W on Nov. 30) and earning a split in the Lone Star State (4-6 L on Jan. 24, 4-1 W on Jan. 25). Grand Rapids owns a record of 13-8-1-2 during the all-time regular season series, including 7-3-0-2 at home and 6-5-1-0 on the road. Prior to the 2013-14 season, the Texas Stars had been to the playoffs three out of four seasons since their inaugural campaign in 2009-10. In their first season, the Stars advanced to the Calder Cup Finals but fell in six games to the Hershey Bears, who earned their second championship in two years. The following season, Texas was knocked out in the first round by the Milwaukee Admirals in six games. The Stars also began the 2013 playoffs as the conference’s top seed but lost to Oklahoma City in five games during the Western Conference Semifinals. The Barons went on to lose the conference finals to Grand Rapids in seven games. This season, the Stars exacted their revenge on Oklahoma City and swept the squad in three games to advance to the semifinals versus Grand Rapids. This series marks the first time since 2000 (#1 Hartford vs. ’99 champ Providence) that the regular-season champion and defending Calder Cup champion are meeting in the playoffs.

Get Your Tickets/Playoff Promotions: Tickets for Games 3, 4 and 5 (Home Games C-E) at Van Andel Arena are now on sale. Playoff tickets may be purchased at The Zone at Van Andel Arena and all Star Tickets locations, by phone at (800) 585-3737, or through http://griffinshockey.com/buytickets All t.icket prices reflect a $1 increase over the first round. Continuing a new tradition, all home playoff games will feature $2 beers and $2 hot dogs from 6-8 p.m., while supplies last. Playoff 4 Packs are available for every home playoff game. Starting at just $56, they include four (or more) tickets and offer a savings of $12 compared to the day-of-game price. For more information or to purchase a Playoff 4 Pack, call (616) 774-4585 ext. 2.

By the Book: There were no upsets during the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs for the first time since 2008, setting the stage for this battle between the defending Calder Cup champions and the AHL’s reigning regular season champions. The Eastern Conference was a much different story, however, as the three highest seeds were knocked out of Calder Cup contention. The other Western Conference semifinal features a clash of titans of a different sort, as the Toronto Marlies and Chicago Wolves represent the fourth and fifth most populous cities in North America, respectively, as well as the AHL’s two largest population bases.

How Offensive: The Stars boasted the AHL’s second-ranked offense during the regular season with 274 goals, just two behind Binghamton, while the Griffins’ defense finished second in the league by allowing only 187 goals, two more than Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The two teams were among four in the league – including Chicago and Manchester – that finished in the top eight both offensively and defensively (TEX 197 GA, 7th; GR 238 GF, 8th). Texas finished the regular season with a 25.3% power play, which ranked first in the league. The Stars’ effective special teams will face Grand Rapids’ regular season 85.6% power play, which tied with Chicago for fourth place in the AHL. So far in the playoffs, Texas is 9/9 on the penalty kill.

Top Dogs: Texas center Travis Morin won AHL Most Valuable Player honors this season after leading the league in scoring with 88 points (32-56—88), and he'll face two of the AHL's top four goalies in Petr Mrazek (2.10 GAA, 2nd) and Tom McCollum (2.30 GAA, 4th). This series also features two of the league's top four goal scorers in Morin (32, T2nd) and the Griffins' Teemu Pulkkinen (31, T4th), as well as the circuit's top rookie point-producers in Texas' Curtis McKenzie (27-38—65, 1st) and Pulkkinen (31-28—59, 2nd).

Ghosts of the Past: Three members of the Stars once wore Griffins uniforms, most notably defenseman Derek Meech, who logged 304 games over five seasons (2004-08; 10-11) in West Michigan, played in the 2007 AHL All-Star Classic, and still ranks as the No. 2 scoring blueliner in franchise history with 102 points (27-75—102). In addition, left wing Mike Hedden (0-1—1 in 3 GP in 2010-11) and Michigan State product Chris Mueller (0-0—0 in 2 GP in 2007-08) each had cups of coffee in Grand Rapids.

Bench Bosses: The series between the Griffins and Stars will be a battle of bench leaders, as newly crowned Jeff Blashill and Texas’ Willie Desjardins are the last two recipients of the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award for the AHL’s Outstanding Coach. The last time consecutive recipients of the award faced off in the Calder Cup Playoffs was in 2010, when Scott Arniel (2008-09) and the Manitoba Moose lost to Guy Boucher’s (2009-10) Hamilton Bulldogs. 2013-14 AHL Coach of the Year Blashill led the Griffins back to the playoffs for the second time in his two seasons behind the team’s bench, helping the team to a 46-win season. Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the 40-year-old Blashill helped the Griffins maintain prominence this season in defense of their 2013 Calder Cup title despite a large-scale roster overhaul. Despite turnover which saw only four of their top 12 scorers from a year ago and just three of their top 10 playoff producers play a majority of this season in Grand Rapids, the Griffins posted three separate seven-game winning streaks and held first place in the Midwest Division from Nov. 3-April 18, never losing more than two consecutive games in regulation at any point this season. Blashill’s influence has had a huge impact on the parent Detroit Red Wings as well, as he’s prepared 10 of his 2013-14 players for their NHL debuts, including nine as members of the Wings. All told, 18 members of Blashill’s 2013-14 squad were called up to play a total of 391 NHL games, and 13 players from his Calder Cup championship team logged time in Detroit this season, helping the club extend its playoff streak to 23 consecutive seasons. In February, Blashill became the first Griffins head coach in 12 years to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic, guiding the AHL All-Stars to victories over Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in both the skills competition and All-Star Game. In 2012-13, his first season as a head coach at the pro level, Blashill led the Griffins to the Calder Cup, marking the first championship in the franchise’s 17-year history. Desjardins was named the third head coach in Texas Stars history on June 13, 2012. Last season he made his AHL coaching debut and recorded his first career AHL win on October 13, 2012 at San Antonio. On December 14, 2012 at Abbotsford, Desjardins notched his 600th career game as a head coach in North America and then on January 4, 2013 at Houston he recorded his 350th career North American head coaching victory. He led Texas to the South Division regular season championship, the first Division crown in franchise history, as well as the number one seed in the Western Conference for the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs. On April 16, 2013, Desjardins was named the winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s coach of the year. Before he stepped behind the Texas Stars bench, Desjardins, 56, spent two seasons in the National Hockey League as associate coach for the Dallas Stars, including one season (2011-12) with former Texas Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan. Prior to joining the Stars organization, he served as head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League for eight seasons (2002-2010) and also served as the club’s general manager from 2005-2010.

Ailments: In Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 25, Griffins defenseman Adam Almquist was hit by Abbotsford’s Max Reinhart after the Heat were whistled offside entering the zone on a two-on-two rush. Almquist spent some time on the ice and was escorted off with an apparent lower body injury. He did not return to the game and his return to the playoffs is yet to be determined. Likewise, forward Jordin Tootoo suffered an upper-body injury in his final shift of the double overtime game that night and has yet to return to the playoffs. Griffins All-Star defenseman Alexey Marchenko was the victim of a severe ankle sprain in a game against the Milwaukee Admirals on Feb. 23 and has been out ever since. Marchenko joined Texas forwards Colton Sceviour and Travis Morin in the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic earlier this season.

Shoot-‘Em Up: The Griffins’ 6-4 loss to the Texas Stars on Jan. 24 marked a new milestone in Griffins franchise history, as Texas’ 59 shots were the most shots that the Griffins have ever allowed. Previously, the most shots against Grand Rapids in a regular season game were 53 on March 13, 2003 while visiting the Houston Aeros, and 58 shots during the playoffs in a home game on May 3, 2001 against the Orlando Solar Bears (IHL).

Regular Season Series Notes: Teemu Pulkkinen led both teams in scoring in the season series, garnering seven points (3-4—7) and a plus-four rating through four games. Adam Almquist was the second-highest scorer with six points (1-5—6) and a plus-eight rating...The Griffins held the AHL’s Most Valuable Player Travis Morin to four points in the series, including only one goal...Morin (1-3—4) tied with Mike Hedden (1-3—4) for the Stars’ scoring lead against Grand Rapids...Tom McCollum (2.56) had the lowest goals against average of any goalie in the series, while all five other goaltenders had a GAA of at least 3.34 (Jared Coreau, 3.34 GAA; Petr Mrazek, 4.00 GAA; Josh Robinson, 4.00 GAA; Allen York, 5.01 GAA; Cristopher Nilstorp, 5.18 GAA)...Brennan Evans’ 22 penalty minutes were the highest of any skater between the teams, but William Wrenn’s 12 PIM were the second-highest...Texas’ 59 shots against Grand Rapids on Jan. 24 marked the most shots allowed by the Griffins in franchise history. The two teams combined for a total of 101 shots that evening...Between four games, the Griffins (18) and Stars (12) scored a combined 30 goals. For Grand Rapids, it was the highest-scoring four-game series of the season.

2013-14 Griffins vs. Stars

Griffins Records: 3-1-0-0 Overall, 2-0-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 1-1-0-0 in Texas
Stars Records: 1-3-0-0 Overall, 0-2-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 1-1-0-0 in Texas

Nov. 29 – Griffins 5, Stars 4 – Van Andel Arena
The Griffins overcame a sluggish start and survived the visitors’ furious rally in the final minutes to earn a fourth straight win, 5-4 over the Stars in the teams’ first meeting of the season. After falling behind 1-0 before the game was three minutes old, Grand Rapids scored five of the next six goals to claim a seemingly secure 5-2 lead late in the third period. But Texas scored twice in the final 2:08 to claw back to within one goal before the Griffins held on for the victory. The win marked the Griffins’ 12th victory in 14 games at that point, aided by Petr Mrazek’s 0.67 goals against average over the course of his prior three games. Mrazek, who finished with 21 saves, earned a career-high seven straight wins for the Griffins and eight in a row overall, including his shutout victory for the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 2. His last eight-game winning streak came three seasons ago in juniors as a member of the OHL’s Ottawa 67s (Nov. 12-Dec. 3, 2010).

Nov. 30 – Griffins 5, Stars 1 – Van Andel Arena
Behind two goals by Patrick Eaves, who was briefly with the Griffins before being recalled to Detroit and eventually traded to Nashville, and 33 saves from Tom McCollum, Grand Rapids rolled to its fifth straight win overall and sixth in a row at home with a 5-1 thrashing of the Stars. The score marked the sixth consecutive home game in which the Griffins scored at least five goals. Cory Emmerton and Alexey Marchenko potted goals late in the first and early in the second, respectively, before Calle Jarnkrok, who was also traded to Nashville along with Eaves, slipped the puck past Allen York to secure the third tally for the Griffins. The Stars solved Tom McCollum for the first and only time with a power play goal at 17:26 of the second by Jyrki Jokipakka, but the Griffins wasted only 24 seconds before responding with a goal of their own by Eaves. Earning points in four of his five games as a Griffin at that point, Eaves notched the final goal midway through the third period when he deflected Adam Almquist’s shot into the net at 8:41. Frustrations mounted for both teams by the third period, resulting in Jordin Tootoo and William Wrenn dropping the gloves and Triston Grant and Cameron Gaunce exchanging blows shortly thereafter.

Jan. 24 – Stars 6, Griffins 4 – Cedar Park Center
Kicking off a weekend three-in-three in Texas, the Griffins fell to the Stars, 6-4, to surrender the Western Conference lead to the home team. Derek Meech opened the scoring bonanza for the Stars at 6:39 of the first period, making the best of a four-on-three advantage that saw Adam Almquist and Teemu Pulkkinen sitting in the Griffins’ penalty box. Brendan Ranford exploded at the end of the first for two goals at 15:05 and 17:36. Texas put the puck past Tom McCollum once again in the trailing moments of the first frame, but the goal was waved off due to a ruling that Curtis McKenzie kicked the puck. When Travis Morin blew one past McCollum on the inside of the left goal post at 1:14, Grand Rapids opted to pull McCollum in favor of rookie netminder Jared Coreau. Goals by Trevor Parkes and Teemu Pulkkinen late in the second gave the Griffins fleeting hope at a comeback before a wild third period swung in favor of the Stars. A controversial hit by Brennan Evans to a Texas attacker saw William Wren pounce on Evans in the opening minutes of the third. Both received penalties for fighting, Wrenn endured an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and Evans took five additional minutes for elbowing and a 10-minute game misconduct. Just 36 seconds later, Calle Jarnkrok was sent to the box for tripping and Mike Hedden scored Texas’ second power play goal of the night at 7:50 to put the Stars up 5-2. Evans’ hit would eventually cause him to serve a three-game suspension (Jan. 26-Feb.1) as a consequence of elbowing. Colton Sceviour seemingly put Grand Rapids out of the contest at 10:29 of the third, until Pulkkinen responded with a power play goal at 12:25 to make it a 6-3 contest. Consecutive penalties against the Stars near the 13-minute mark provided the Griffins with a two-man advantage and, in an attempt to shorten the scoring gap, Coreau was pulled to give Grand Rapids three extra skaters. The last-ditch effort proved fruitful as Almquist put away a slapshot to make it 6-4 at 14:06, his first goal of the season. However, Grand Rapids’ comeback was extinguished when Almquist and Alexey Marchenko were called for interference and slashing, respectively, in the final five minutes of the game, leading to the Griffins falling to the Stars with a final score of 6-4. McCollum turned away 20 of 24 shots before Coreau stepped in and prevented 33 of 35. Robinson stopped 38 of 42 shots to earn the victory. Texas tallied 59 shots in the contest, the most the Griffins have ever allowed in franchise history, while Grand Rapids fired off 42, combining for a total of 101 shots.

Jan 25 – Griffins 4, Stars 1 – Cedar Park Center
In the second game in as many days between the top two teams in the Western Conference at that point, the Griffins rebounded from their previous performance to take home a 4-1 decision over the Stars and earn a 3-1 record in the season series. After a scoreless first period, Texas connected first when Chris Mueller buried a Scott Glennie drop pass into the top-shelf of Tom McCollum’s net. It was all Griffins from there, when less than a minute and a half later Mitch Callahan notched his 17th goal of the season off of a Calle Jarnkrok setup. During four-on-four play in the same period, Andrej Nestrasil picked up the puck off of a faceoff and quickly slammed it past Josh Robinson at 9:00. Just 43 seconds later, Landon Ferraro found himself open in the right circle and put away a feed from Teemu Pulkkinen to put the Griffins up 3-1. Ferraro struck once again at 15:08 of the second period on a give-and-go from Jordin Tootoo. In all, Grand Rapids potted four goals in a matter of 12:02 in the second period. The teams held the third period scoreless. Tom McCollum finished the game with 33 saves, while Robinson turned away 28 of 32.

#1 vs. Champion: The showdown between the Stars and Griffins is the first time since 2000 that the #1 overall seed has met the defending Calder Cup champion in the playoffs. The four most recent results of such matchups are as follows, with the bolded team winning the series:

Year      #1 vs. Champs      Round
2000      HRT vs. PRO            Eastern Conference Finals
1998      PHI vs. HER             Mid Atlantic Division Finals
1994      STJ vs. CPB             Atlantic Division Semifinals
1991      RCH vs. SPR            Calder Cup Finals

Climbing the Ladder: As a result of the first series, numerous Griffins have climbed the team’s all-time playoff scoring leaders list. The following players rank among the list after notching points in the postseason:

• Landon Ferraro, T11th (6-12—18 in 28 games played)
• Riley Sheahan, T11th (4-14—18 in 26 GP)
• Tomas Jurco, T15th (9-7—16 in 26 GP)
• Jeff Hoggan, T15th (8-8—16 in 28 GP)
• Nathan Paetsch, 21st (0-15—15 in 28 GP)
• Mitch Callahan, T23rd (6-7—13 in 26 GP)
• Teemu Pulkkinen, T32nd (5-5—10 in 18 GP)
• Ryan Sproul, T65th (2-2—4 in 4 GP)
• Andrej Nestrasil, T65th (2-2—4 in 5 GP)
• Mattias Backman, T65th (1-3—4 in 4 GP)
• Cory Emmerton, T78th (2-1—3  in 15 GP)
• Gleason Fournier, T89th (0-2—2 in 7 GP)
• Trevor Parkes, T107th (1-0—1 in 2 GP)
• Zach Nastasiuk, T107th (0-1—1 in 2 GP)
• Andreas Athanasiou, T107th (0-1—1 in 4 GP)
• Mattias Janmark, T107th (0-1—1 in 4 GP)
• David McIntyre, T107th (0-1—1 in 4 GP)

Local Loyalty: The Griffins’ two home games against the Abbotsford Heat in the Western Conference Quarterfinals saw two record-breaking crowds pack the seats of Van Andel Arena. Wednesday’s crowd of 7,193 fans was their largest ever for a playoff opener and their fourth-largest playoff crowd since 2001. However, Wednesday’s attendance was eclipsed by Friday’s crowd of 7,641 fans, which was the ninth-largest in Griffins playoff history (61 home games).

Lead by Example: After enjoying seven multipoint performances during the regular season, Grand Rapids captain Jeff Hoggan led the series-ending charge against the Abbotsford Heat in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals with his first two-goal playoff game as a Griffin. In the 5-3 victory, Hoggan exploded for two goals and an assist to help Grand Rapids to its fifth consecutive victorious playoff series. It was his first three-point performance of the 2013-14 campaign, and the veteran left wing jumped from one playoff point to four (3-1—4), tying him for second on the Griffins in playoff scoring. In the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs, Hoggan accumulated 12 points (5-7—12) in 24 games as one of only three Griffins, along with Brennan Evans and Chad Billins, to play in all 100 games of the 2012-13 season.

Playoff Roster: The following 34 players are eligible to suit up for the Griffins in the postseason: goaltenders Jared Coreau, Tom McCollum, Petr Mrazek and Jake Paterson; defensemen Adam Almquist, Mattias Backman, Brennan Evans, Gleason Fournier, Nick Jensen, Alexey Marchenko, Richard Nedomlel, Max Nicastro, Xavier Ouellet, Nathan Paetsch and Ryan Sproul; and forwards Andreas Athanasiou, Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Colin Campbell, Willie Coetzee, Cory Emmerton, Landon Ferraro, Martin Frk, Triston Grant, Jeff Hoggan, Mattias Janmark, Tomas Jurco, David McIntyre, Zach Nastasiuk, Andrej Nestrasil, Trevor Parkes, Teemu Pulkkinen, Riley Sheahan and Jordin Tootoo.

All-Rookies: The Western Conference Semifinal showdown between Texas and Grand Rapids will feature three members of the six-man 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team. Griffins forward Teemu Pulkkinen and defenseman Ryan Sproul represent the Griffins and forward Curtis McKenzie represents Texas on the squad. The Griffins already vanquished another All-Rookie member in Abbotsford goaltender Joni Ortio. In all, the Griffins’ playoff run will have featured two-thirds of the team, with Eastern Conference defenseman Brenden Kichton (St. John’s IceCaps) and forward Ryan Strome (Bridgeport Sound Tigers) as the other two representatives.

Seeing Stars: As voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league’s 30 cities, Texas center Travis Morin and right wing Colton Sceviour were named to the 2013-14 AHL First All-Star Team this season, while Griffins goaltender Petr Mrazek and defenseman Adam Almquist were named to the 2013-14 AHL Second All-Star Team. Sceviour was not reassigned to Texas at the conclusion of the Dallas Stars’ playoff run.

Mattias, Mattias: In combination with the late-season addition of Andreas Athanasiou (0-1—1), the Griffins received two Swedish aces with the April 15 assignations of defenseman Mattias Backman (1-3—4) and forward Mattias Janmark (0-1—1). Backman arrived following the conclusion of his season with Linkoping of the SHL, while Janmark spent the majority of his season with the SHL’s AIK. In Game 1 of the WCQ, Backman notched the game-tying tally courtesy of a drop pass by Athanasiou, forcing an eventual double overtime which resulted in 2-1 win against the Abbotsford Heat. Backman also potted an assist in a 7-2 win over Abbotsford in Game 2, marking his second point in two games since entering the playoffs. Janmark enjoyed his first point in a Griffins sweater in Game 2 with an assist of his own. Backman perhaps saved the series against Abbotsford in Game 4, blocking the Heat from dumping the puck into a wide-open net with a full body dive after Petr Mrazek ventured out to the blueline to prevent an Abbotsford breakaway.

Mrazek’s Milestones: With three more playoff games between the pipes, netminder Petr Mrazek (28 GP) will have played in more playoff games than any other goalie in franchise history. The record is currently held by Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who played in 30 playoff games with Grand Rapids for a total of 1,795:13 in net. Mrazek’s 18 postseason wins are the most of any Griffins goaltender, compounding on his record-breaking 15 wins in the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Tale of the Tape: Here’s how the two rivals stacked up in key categories during the regular season:

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink


RWBill's avatar

I will be devastated if they don’t buy out Franzen.
Posted by ZandPasha11 on 05/06/14 at 10:49 PM ET

Prepare to be devastated.

Posted by RWBill on 05/07/14 at 01:48 PM ET

TreKronor's avatar

Ghosts of the Past: Three members of the Stars once wore Griffins uniforms, most notably defenseman Derek Meech,

I forgot about Meech.  I always sort of liked the guy. 

Texas looks to be a tough match up.

Posted by TreKronor on 05/07/14 at 04:42 PM ET

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