The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/09/14 at 01:16 AM ET
Both the Grand Rapids Griffins and Texas Stars enjoyed five-plus day breaks after making quick work of their first-round series, and the general rule for those kinds of breaks is that the first game between said teams involves a stinker of a performance from one "too-well-rested" team.
On Thursday, the Griffins regrettably played that role, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Texas Stars in the first game of the teams' second-round series, and the scary part for the Griffins is this: Texas built its 5-2 lead in only 30 minutes and 2 seconds' worth of time.
It could've been worse, far worse, had Texas not let off the gas--though I'm sure the Griffins would argue that the team stepped up on defense, if only belatedly, and that its' second-half-of-the-game performance gave the team a solid foundation to build upon when the series resumes on Saturday in Austin.
After their last road loss by three goals during the playoffs, the Grand Rapids Griffins ripped off a franchise-record seven straight postseason wins on foreign ice. The defending Calder Cup champs will now try to duplicate that rebound after the Texas Stars exploded for five goals over the game’s first 30:02 en route to a 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Thursday at the Cedar Park Center.
Texas will host Game 2 at 8 p.m. EDT Saturday before the series shifts to Van Andel Arena for Games 3 and 4 next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Stars got their modest but raucous home crowd into the game early by scoring on their second and third shots in the opening four minutes. Sprung on a breakaway by a pass from AHL MVP Travis Morin, Brendan Ranford swooped in on Petr Mrazek and deked before patiently lifting a backhand into the top of the net at 3:19.
Just 13 seconds later, Dustin Jeffrey put another backhand between Mrazek and the right post from the slot, giving the Stars a 2-0 lead and prompting Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill to call his timeout. The two Texas tallies were the fastest in the franchise’s playoff history.
It didn’t take long for Grand Rapids to respond, as Cory Emmerton cut the margin to one with an acrobatic power play goal at the 4:42 mark. Nathan Paetsch collected a centering pass from Landon Ferraro between the circles and quickly passed to the slashing Emmerton, who went airborne after contact with goalie Jack Campbell but managed to get his stick on the puck and slip it inside the left post while falling to the ice.
Eventually outshot 15-7 during the opening 20 minutes, the Griffins appeared that they would weather the storm with minimal damage until the Stars’ lethal power play connected with 1:09 remaining, as former Griffin Mike Hedden stood on the doorstep to tip home Jyrki Jokipakka’s point shot to make it 3-1 Texas.
Grand Rapids, which hadn’t trailed by more than a single goal during its seven-game road winning streak in the playoffs, had nevertheless come from behind to win each of its last three road playoff games, dating to Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals.
That resilience was displayed 4:20 into the second period, when Tomas Jurco took a pass from Ryan Sproul at the Griffins’ line, maneuvered up the right side, cut to the high slot between three defenders and ripped a shot under the crossbar. But it took the Stars only 1:21 to reestablish their two-goal advantage on another breakaway, with AHL rookie of the year Curtis McKenzie taking a shot that bounced off Mrazek’s blocker, over his shoulder, onto his back and into the net.
Texas notched a second power play tally at 10:02 to push its lead to 5-2, as Jeffrey darted around Mattias Backman and down the slot before stuffing the puck past Mrazek. It marked the Griffins’ first three-goal deficit on the road during the postseason since a 4-1 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 3 of the 2013 Western Conference Finals, as well as the first time in his 29 playoff games with Grand Rapids that Mrazek personally allowed more than four goals.
In a stark contrast to the seven combined goals over the first half of the contest, the remainder of the game transpired without a red light, despite Mrazek heading to the bench in favor of an extra attacker with more than four minutes left in regulation.
Texas, which out-gunned Grand Rapids 36-25 on the night, finished 2-for-5 on the power play, and the Griffins went 1-for-2. Mrazek made 31 saves in defeat while Campbell stopped 23 to improve his playoff record to 2-0.
Notes: The Griffins are 3-7 all time in best-of-seven series when dropping Game 1, including 0-3 when losing the series opener on the road. The last time they rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win a seven-game series was against Manitoba in the 2006 North Division Finals, although they did win the best-of-five conference quarterfinals last spring after dropping Game 1 at Houston.
Three Stars: 1. TEX Jeffrey (two goals); 2. TEX Jokipakka (two assists); 3. TEX Morin (two assists)
If you're interested, the AHL's website and the Texas Stars' website also posted sans-quote recaps, as did MLive's Nate Reens and Fox 17's Steve Amorose. In the with-quotes department, however, the Austin American-Statesman's Sean Shapiro penned a recap (and I bought a 7-day pass to the paper so that you can get the quotes without spending eight bucks)...
Before the game, Stars coach Willie Desjardins said that a fast start would be important, and Texas looked well rested after an eight-day break between Round 1 and 2.
“It’s hard to say what will happen at the start of a series,” Desjardins said before the game. “You know they’re a good team … but at the same time we’re rested and we’ll see where it takes us.”
The Griffins cut the lead to one, 3-2, 4:20 into the second period on a wrist shot by Tomas Jurco, but the Stars squashed the momentum when Jyrki Jokipakka connected with McKenzie on a stretch pass for a breakaway.
Mrazek stopped McKenzie’s initial shot, but the puck popped up in the air and the goalie lost track of it while it rolled down his back and into the net.
Almost six minutes later Jeffrey pushed the lead to 5-2 and scored his second goal of the night on the power play. Jeffrey skated between a pair of Griffins’ defenders untouched and then fired a wrist shot past Mrazek.
It was the first game in 12 days for the Texas Stars and any concerns about rust were dismissed very quickly. Two goals in the first four minutes of the contest put Texas on a path to a 5-2 final in Game 1 against the defending champions, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"We had a huge layoff," said Dustin Jeffrey, who scored two goals tonight. "Sometimes you see teams come out rusty, but the way we put pressure on their D put a lot of doubt in their game and generated turnovers."
Jeffrey put on a show, displaying the talent that made him a waiver wire claim by Dallas. His play went beyond the two goals on the score sheet as he created turnovers on the forecheck and played well in the defensive zone as well. It was the best game he's had as a Texas Star.
"He played well tonight," said Coach Desjardins. "He capitalized on his chances. We need that line playing well for us and they had a good game."
Texas scored two off stretch passes on the night, displaying the quickness of the transition games.
"If you look at our team all year, we generated a lot of turnovers and our transition game is quick. If you look at the guys we have, that shows the talent we have."
Jack Campbell got the start and stopped 23 of 25 in the contest. He hadn't played in 12 games.
While the Griffins posted a much better quality highlight clip with post-game comments from coach Jeff Blashill and Nathan Paetsch...
As well as a pre-game profile of Jeff Hoggan:
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.