The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/25/13 at 01:00 AM ET
BEWARE: Auto-play highlight clips lurk within.
FYI and FTR from the get-go: Martin Frk and the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads will play against the WHL's Portland Winterhawks in the Memorial Cup Final on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in the AHL...
Prior to puck drop, the Grand Rapids Grifins and their fans stood with citizens of Oklahoma City, but once the first game of the AHL's Western Conference Final began, it was all business, and the Griffins defeated the Oklahoma City Barons 2-1 (in the first of a slate of back-to-back games at Van Andel Arena). The Griffins' website provides a superb game recap:
On the strength of Petr Mrazek’s 27 saves, the Grand Rapids Griffins claimed Game 1 of a conference final for the first time ever on Friday, earning a 2-1 win over the Oklahoma City Barons at Van Andel Arena.
Landon Ferraro’s goal 2:35 into the second period held up as the game-winner, as the Griffins also won a conference finals game on home ice for the first time in 10 years and three days, dating to a Game 6 victory over Houston on May 21, 2003.Grand Rapids will look to take a 2-0 series lead on Saturday when it hosts the Barons at 7 p.m.
The most unlikely Griffin scored the game’s first goal 7:15 into the opening period. From the left boards just inside the Barons’ blue line, defenseman Brennan Evans – who did not register a goal while appearing in all 76 of Grand Rapids’ games during the regular season – fired a harmless-looking wrist shot that bounced past Yann Danis. It marked Evans’ first goal since Feb. 21, 2012, when he was a member of the Peoria Rivermen.
Oklahoma City answered with 3:20 remaining in the period, as Andrew Hotham took a pass from Jonathan Cheechoo just inside the zone, slashed into the left circle and ripped a shot past Mrazek’s glove.
A great effort by Tomas Jurco led to the game-deciding goal early in the middle frame. Winning a battle for the puck in the right corner, he skated along the end boards and tried a wraparound that glanced off Mitch Callahan’s skate as it passed through the crease, and Ferraro was waiting at the right post to slam the puck home.
Just over a minute later during a Barons power play, Philippe Cornet seemed poised to tie it when a juicy rebound found him waiting on the doorstep, but Mrazek slid across to rob him with a sprawling glove save.
The Griffins, who outshot their opposition in all 11 games over the first two playoff rounds, matched the Barons’ 28 shots on this night. Danis made 26 saves in the losing effort.
Grand Rapids has never lost a best-of-seven series after winning Game 1 (5-0).
The Edmonton Oilers follow their AHL affiliate very closely, so they dispatched Ryan Dittrick to Grand Rapids, and he spoke to former Griffins coach Todd Nelson and forward Jonathan Cheechoo about the Barons' effort, noting that Oklahoma City had over a week's worth of rest between the conclusion of their second-round series against Texas and the start of the Western Conference Final. As such, the Barons felt a little rusty...
With both teams scoring a combined 34 goals (17 each) in their four-game season-series, Friday's low-scoring affair came as a bit of a surprise.
"When we're sharp, those chances usually go in," said Nelson, "but we weren't as sharp as we could have been. We didn't have our hands tonight. Passes were off. When it comes down to scoring goals, you have to have good execution.
"Tonight was a grind both ways for both teams. We both respect each other's offence and that's why it was a close checking (game), but it's one of those things where if we get our execution and our edge back, we'll be a better team."
Added Cheechoo: "It's the playoffs and everybody tightens up a little bit. When you have two skilled teams going up against one another, you get more of a defensive hockey game because you know what the other team is capable of."
"I think we were in it, but I think we can do a better job of making (Mrazek's) life difficult," said Cheechoo. "A lot of times we either failed to get the puck through, or when we did, there was no one in front. A goalie at this level is going to stop those chances. We've got to get our feet going, move to the net and create some rebounds. When you do, that's when you capitalize."
Though the Barons believe that they'll find their form in a hurry...
"You don't want to go down 2-0, but at the same time, it's home ice advantage for a reason," said Cheechoo. "We've got to come in tomorrow night and keep things simple. I think we tried to make too many pretty plays tonight -- maybe it was the time off or whatever, but we have to get back to the way we were playing before."
"To get right back at it is good," added Nelson. "That layoff was pretty long and we were a different team tonight than we were against Texas. We've got to get that edge back and tomorrow's a great opportunity for us."
As they also told the Oklahoman's Dean Holzworth:
“I thought we were pretty rusty in the first (period), and you try to guard against that the best way possible, but we just didn't have our execution down tonight,” Barons coach Todd Nelson said. “We definitely looked like a team that has been off eight days, and I think (Saturday) night we'll look a lot better. We were a different team than we were against Texas, and we have to get that edge back.”
The Barons tallied 16 goals in their last three games against Texas, but managed only one late in the first period against goaltender Petr Mrazek and a stout Griffins defense.
After Grand Rapids' Brennen Evans scored his first goal of the season at 7:15 of the first, Oklahoma City answered when Andrew Hotham took a dump pass from Jonathan Cheechoo and snapped a shot past Mrazek's glove with less than four minutes left. Hotham's second goal of the postseason knotted the game at 1-1.
“You are always a bit rusty when you're off a week or so, and they just played three or four days ago,” Hotham said of the Griffins, who defeated Toronto in the Western Conference semifinals. “It takes a couple shifts to get your legs into to it, but we weren't sharp tonight and we have to be better. I don't think you can ever panic in the playoffs, and you have to go into each game knowing you need to win. We have to focus (Saturday).”
The defensive struggle was a bit of a surprise considering both teams' potent offenses, and the fact that they had failed to combine for less than seven goals in each of their four regular-season meetings.
“It's the playoffs, and everyone tightens up,” Cheechoo said. “You have two skilled teams going against each other, and then you see that, and a lot of times you get more of a defensive hockey game. You know what the other team is capable of, so I think that's the way it played out tonight.”
The Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner provides the Griffins' players and coach's perspectives, and he found that the high-scoring Griffins had no problems engaging in a defensive struggle:
"I think there’s always a feeling out process in Game 1 when you haven’t faced each other in a little while,” said Blashill, whose team hadn’t faced the Barons since Feb. 9. “But I also think it was a matter of both teams being really, really tight. There just wasn’t much space at all.”
In four regular-season meetings, only once did a team score as few as two goals. The Barons also were the third-highest scoring team in the league. Oklahoma City coach Todd Nelson had similar comments.
"You have two offensive teams, but tonight was a grind both ways for both teams, I think," Nelson said on [Friday]. "We both respect each other’s offense, and that's why it was tight checking."
Mrazek, starting his 12th consecutive game in goal, faced 28 shots, the most since 31 in Game 2 against Toronto. His best was sprawling point-blank stop against Phillippe Cornet on a power play four minutes into the second period with the score tied 1-1. He enjoyed having more work, at least when compared to the 18-save game in the conference semifinal clincher Tuesday against Toronto.
“I was talking with coach before the game and we were talking about how they were shooting from everywhere and that’s much better,” Mrazek said. “I enjoy that.”
Brennan Evans got his first goal of the season to open the scoring for Grand Rapids. The defenseman, who didn’t score a goal in all 76 games during the regular season, flipped a shot on net from inside the left blueline. Goalie Yann Danis never saw it. That provided a big boost, Ferraro said.
“I think that got us going a bit,” he said. “I know I stayed seated a bit longer than normal … because he’s been close a couple times before where I jumped up and got way too excited and it hasn’t gone in, so I wanted to be sure. But I think that really got us going.”
In terms of multimedia, the Griffins did receive a fair shake. Griffinshockey's Mark Newman posted a 20-image photo gallery, the Grand Rapids Press posted an 8-image gallery, and, opposite the Edmonton Oilers website's highlight clip...
And if-you-want-to-watch-em-you-may-on-your-own post-game clips from the Barons' YouTube channel and two post-game clips of Todd Nelson's comments from the Oilers' website, as well as interviews with Jonathan Cheechoo and Andrew Hotham...
Fox 17 posted a combined highlights-and-post-game clip (this is a deadly auto-play clip)...
As did WZZM 13...
And WOOD TV...
And last but certainly not least, the Griffins posted a combined clip of highlights (as well as an end-of-game scrum) and interviews with coach Blashill and Landon Ferraro:
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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.