The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/08/13 at 08:39 PM ET
The Grand Rapids Griffins' 3-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch in Game 1 of the AHL's Calder Cup Final was what you might expect from a team that was coming off a seven-game series (Grand Rapids) playing against a rested-to-rusty team (Syracuse): a bit of a rope-a-dope win involving some superb goaltending by Petr Mrazek (29 saves), some clutch goals and a bit of luck.
The Griffins received a 1st period goal from Mitch Callahan thanks to a hard net-front-crashing presence by Callahan, Landon Ferraro and Jeff Hoggan with a puck relay back to assist-makers Brennan Evans and Chad Billins...But after that, the Griffins basically played a Wings-like solid defensive game and relied very heavily on Petr Mrazek to stop a ton of first shots as Grand Rapids cleaned up most of the rebounds.
The Griffins caught a break on the third of 3 second-period penalties as Brett Connolly was ruled to be in the crease and impeding Mrazek (who basically gave into a bad habit and backed into the crease himself), which was kind-of-sort-of true and kind-of-sort-of-a-BS call on the would-be tying goal.
Wings fans will be familiar with the scenario: the Crunch were going d-to-d-to-a-forward at the left wing side boards, and as Mrazek's natural tendency is to back into his crease (Jim Bedard and Chris Osgood need to cure him of that habit), Connolly wandered into the crease, first with one skate and then two, and as Mrazek splayed post-to-post and the shot went past him, the refs blew it off. Was Connolly interfering with Mrazek? Sure, but it was the goalie who ceded territory and the forward who sort of wandered in, a la Tomas Holmstrom. No goal, for once, for a Red Wings team or an affiliate on an in-the-crease call.
After that, the Griffins bore down after that and played an incredibly solid third period, displaying oodles of discipline, superb puck management and Wings-like smart defensive habits as the slightly rusty Danny DeKeyser and the rest of the Griffins basically ignored the Crunch's attempts to instigate.
Aone point, Joakim Andersson got into a shoving match with Ondrej Palat in the Crunch's right goal line boards, and he took and gave some cross checks before skating away and skating to the bench, all with Palat chirping the whole way, and Andersson going on with his business as if nobody was there.
The Griffins' 2-0 goal was just a bizarre bounce--Riley "Tinky Winky" Sheahan took a puck that was bouncing around the neutral zone and ripped a hard slap shot through Cedric Dejsardins--and with that, the smaller but more conscientious Griffins seemed to be in control...
But with 6:41 left in the 3rd, Riley Cote scored a goal to make things count off a poor turnover, with a shuffled-to-the-point plast blasting through traffic and past Petr Mrazek, who never saw the puck. The Griffins seemed to think that things were going to go easily after Sheahan's goal, let their guard down, and as you might expect for any team, never mind a young one with a goaltender who had faced 22 shots over the first two periods, they got burned.
Frankly, thorughout the game, everybody from DeKeyser to an obviously spent Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson looked a bit mentally and physically tired having come off their back-to-back seven game series--for both the Wings and Griffins--and while Landon Ferraro, Tomas Jurco (who's made remarkable strides in terms of his ability to keep up with the pro game) and Jan Mursak displaying lots of energy and Adam Almquist (despite his Filppula-like drop passes to no one), Brennan Evans, Chad Billins and a steadier Brian Lashoff playing solid defense, the Griffins had to rely upon puck possession and occasionally their opponent's rust to hang in there--all while playing on a rink where the seven feet short of 200 are all jammed into a teeny tiny neutral zone.
Hang in they did, despite what was NHL-quality shitty refereeing for both sides. The Griffins got a very late PP--with just over 2 minutes left in the 3rd--prompting more, "Ref you suck" chants from the War Memorial crowd, but whoever threw an octopus onto the ice in the second period probably got thrown out of a game worth watching (and thank you http://www.AHLLive.com for streaming it!)...
And the Griffins tossed Andersson, Nyquist and Tatar over the boards after the Crunch called a last-minute timeout and pulled Desjardins, with Nathan Paetsch and Brian Lashoff on defense, and they made it look easy, completely stifling the Crunch and yielding an empty-net PPG for Nyquist from Andersson on a simple outlet pass.
So the Griffins took Game 1, and while they were wobbly at times, they didn't falter thanks to Mrazek's 29 saves--like Jimmy Howard, he stopped the first almost all the time, and while he flops and flails a bit too much, his calm demeanor obviously inspires huge confidence in him from his teammates--and the skaters playing the Wings' puck possession system to perfection.
They'll need it to prevail as Game 2 takes place on Sunday at 6 PM EDT (on http://www.AHLLive.com again), and the Crunch are gonna be desperate to take a game before the series shifts to GR for Games 3, 4 and 5.
Update: FYI from the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer's initial recap:
In Calder Cup Finals history, the Game 1 winner has gone on to take the series 75 percent of the time (57 of 76).
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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.