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Grand Rapids Griffins take Game 5 of Western Conference Final, lead OKC 3-2

The Grand Rapids Griffins faced a must-win situation in their last of three straight games in Oklahoma City, OK (the AHL utilizes a 2-3-2 playoff format), and tied 2 games to 2 with the Oklahoma City Barons, the Griffins stood up and delivered a command performance, defeating the Barons 3-0 and taking a 3-2 lead in the AHL's Western Conference Final--with Petr Mrazek pitching a 37-save shutout and Joakim Andersson registering 2 assists.

The Griffins now head home and will host the Barons on Tuesday and possibly Wednesday, with the winner of this series slated to battle the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL's Calder Cup Final.

The Grand Rapids Griffins' website provides a superb recap:

The Grand Rapids Griffins need one more win to advance to their first Calder Cup Finals in franchise history, following an impressive 3-0 win over the Oklahoma City Barons on Sunday at the Cox Convention Center.

Petr Mrazek posted his second straight shutout behind 37 saves, extending his personal shutout streak to 161:38 and his consecutive saves streak to 100, as he became just the 15th goalie in AHL history to post consecutive shutouts twice in the same postseason.

Now holding a 3-2 lead in the series, the Griffins could clinch a finals appearance against the Syracuse Crunch as soon as Tuesday, when they’ll welcome the Barons back to Van Andel Arena for Game 6. Game time is 7 p.m., and tickets are available at griffinshockey.com. Game 7, if necessary, would be played in Grand Rapids on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Gustav Nyquist was briefly knocked from the game by a questionable but unpenalized hit 57 seconds into the second period. With the Griffins breaking out of their zone, Nyquist made a pass just before the red line and took a stride before Chris VandeVelde made a blind-side hit from the right, appearing to strike Nyquist’s head with his left shoulder. After lying on the ice for a minute, he gingerly skated to the locker room before returning to the bench with 12:45 remaining in the frame. 

Mrazek’s larceny was on display with under seven minutes left, when he darted across to his left post to stone a point-blank chance by Ryan Martindale, who showed his frustration seconds later by fighting Landon Ferraro.

Tomas Jurco drew first blood for the Griffins at the 15:13 mark. After Francis Pare had chipped the puck up the right boards, Jurco chased Barons defenseman Randy Jones down in the neutral zone and chipped the puck ahead to himself for a breakaway, finishing it off by flipping a shot into the top left corner of Yann Danis’ net.

Mitch Callahan made it 2-0 with a shorthanded goal 1:59 later, when Joakim Andersson won a race for the puck along the left boards, turned and threw it toward the net, where a wide-open Callahan redirected it into the back door.

Andersson set up the Griffins’ third goal in a span 4:14 with just 33 seconds left before intermission, centering a pass from the right side to an unmarked Tomas Tatar, who ripped a shot past Danis from between the circles.

The Barons had a golden opportunity to dent Mrazek with 6:58 left in the third period, when consecutive penalty calls on Adam Almquist (holding) and Brennan Evans (delay of game) presented them with 1:55 of a 5-on-3 power play. But the Griffins’ penalty killers rose up to the challenge, making Oklahoma City 0-for-6 with the advantage on the night.

Incredibly, Mrazek’s current shutout streak of 161:38 is only his second-longest of the postseason, as he kept opponents scoreless for 178:58 over four games spanning the conference quarterfinals against Houston and the semifinals versus Toronto.

Notes: The Griffins have held a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series on five prior occasions, ultimately winning four of them. Their only loss was to Manitoba in the 2007 North Division Semifinals…In the two games since Andersson and Nyquist returned from Detroit, Grand Rapids has gone 3-for-6 on the power play. Over the series’ first three games, the Griffins went 0-for-9.

The Barons' website provides a truncated recap, and EdmontonOilers.com's Ryan Dittrick offers the Barons' takes on battling a suddenly-unbeatable Mrazek:

"He's played extremely well," said Head Coach Todd Nelson. "But at the same time, I don't think we're making it as tough on him as we should. We've got to bury our chances. We had plenty of opportunities tonight, but it's a lack of execution right now. We fanned on pucks, we had open nets that we didn't capitalize on. We have to bury the opportunities that we do get. The bottom line is, in order to win a hockey game, you've got to score a goal and we haven't been doing that."

Coming into the series, the Barons led the American Hockey League in post-season scoring with 42 goals in 10 games. Where has all the offence gone?

"If (Mrazek) sees it, he's going to stop it," said Philippe Cornet, who was the last to beat Mrazek back in Game 3. "We're making it easy on him. We've got to get in front, get him to cough up some rebounds and get some greasy goals."

"A lot of the shots we got off today, it seemed like we were hitting him in the chest," added Taylor Fedun. "We need to shoot for the corners. His positioning is good, but we've got to make him work a little harder."

Needing back-to-back wins to advance to the Calder Cup Final, the Barons are left to draw on past experiences. OKC rattled off consecutive wins when facing elimination back in Round 1 against the Charlotte Checkers. They believe they can do it again.

"We've always done it the hard way. All year. Why stop now?" said Nelson.

...

With an indecisive Martin Marincin pinching at the offensive blue line, newcomer Gustav Nyquist turned it back the other way. On the ensuing 2-on-1, however, some sensational stick work by Fedun broke up the play altogether. Marincin's gaffe forced Todd Nelson to shortened his bench on the back end. With Nyquist and Joakim Andersson buzzing early on, Fedun, Brandon Davidson and Garrett Stafford were given the bulk of the workload.

"They're doing well against them," said Nelson. "They're going to get their opportunities because they're that good and that dynamic, but they're containing them well and that has to continue. I like that the way that they match up against them."

The Oklahoman's Michael Baldwin also penned a Barons-centric recap (and a notebook stating that top-line forward Anton Lander might return from a knee injury on Tuesday)...

“Our team has done it the hard way all year. Why stop now?” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “We have a lot of heart and character in that locker room. We've always found a way to come out on top.”

To come out on top this time the Barons must find a way to get the puck past Mrazek, who hasn't been scored on the past eight periods, a streak of 163 minutes, 25 seconds. The last time Mrazek surrendered a goal was when the Barons scored three first-period goals in a Game 3 win. The only other goal OKC has scored since then was Jonathan Cheechoo's empty-netter at the end of Game 3.

“He's been the difference for them,” said Barons defenseman Taylor Fedun. “But it's not like we're not putting a lot of shots on net. We've had quality chances, too. He's been outstanding.”

The Barons have outshot the Griffins by 47 shots in the series (175-128) but Grand Rapids has been the only team to light the lamp the past two games.

“Give him credit, but we have to bear down on our chances,” said Barons forward Philippe Cornet. “We're missing easy goals we normally don't miss like backdoors and tap-ins. We've some how found a way to miss shots we normally score.”

Detroit's fifth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Mrazek is showing why he could be the Red Wings' backup goalie next season. Against a Barons team that's scored a Calder Cup-playoff-high 51 goals, Mrazek has posted a 1.40 goals against average in the series with a remarkable .960 saves percentage. Mrazek stopped all 40 shots Saturday night and all 37 shots on Sunday to help the Griffins move to within one win of the AHL finals.

“We have to continue to drive to the net, but we also have to pounce on rebounds,” Fedun said. “We also have to shoot for corners. A lot of our shots hit him in the chest. He's had good positioning. But we've had some good opportunities.”

And the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner notes that while Griffins coach Jeff Blashill's happy with his team's performance, he's not thrilled with the number of shots his team's surrendering to the high-flying Barons:

With a 3-2 series lead, the Griffins host Oklahoma City at 7 p.m. Tuesday looking for a berth in the finals against Syracuse, which has already claimed the Eastern Conference title. If necessary, Game 7 would be 7 p.m. Wednesday at Van Andel Arena.

“Our guys understand this,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “On Wednesday, we were down (in the series) 2-1 and it wasn’t over. Now we’re up 3-2, and the series isn’t over. It takes four wins and we’re looking forward to Tuesday.”

Mrazek, who stopped a season-high 40 shots in Saturday’s 4-0 victory, had another 37 saves in Game 5. That was the second-highest total he’s faced. Add in the end of Game 3, and Mrazek has stopped 100 consecutive shots.

“Sometimes the shot totals aren’t indicative of the chances against,” Blashill said. “But tonight, I thought it was because we gave up a lot up of chances and he made a number of big saves.”

The Griffins have 10 postseason victories, and Mrazek has shutouts in four of them. He also had back-to-back shutouts earlier this postseason - against Houston in the first-round final, and Toronto in the conference semifinal opener. Both were 7-0 scores. There's more, too. Oklahoma City had not lost consecutive games over a span of 51 games, dating back to the middle of January.

There was no scoring until the Griffins began a scoring spree late in the second period.

“We struggled big time in the first period and then in the second, once we got that first goal, we just had a lot of energy and everything picked up for us,” said Joakim Andersson, who had a pair of assists.

The Oilers' website posted a photo gallery and a highlight clip...

And you may certainly watch the Barons' post-game clip and individual interviews with coach Todd Nelson, Taylor Fedun, Phillipe Cornet and Chris VandeVelde on your own;

The Griffins' website posted a photo gallery, post-game interviews with Joakim Andersson and coach Jeff Blashill, and they offer a trio of SendToNews highlights that aren't very different from the one that the Oilers posted...

And WOOD TV8 posted a slate of highlights and post-game interviews with coach Blashill and Andersson:

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Comments

jaromirblogger's avatar

I can’t wait to see the Wings’ goaltending situation in 2-3 years. Heck, maybe even next year.

Posted by jaromirblogger on 06/03/13 at 02:59 AM ET

shanetx's avatar

I’m terrified that Howard’s extension means next deadline it’ll be Mrazek for pick-an-oiler/flyer/bolt/sabre/islander and that we’ll spend the late teens/early 2020s feeling like Blackhawks fans watching Hasek did in the late 90s and early 00s.

Posted by shanetx from Floydada, Texas on 06/03/13 at 05:06 AM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

In the two games since Andersson and Nyquist returned from Detroit, Grand Rapids has gone 3-for-6 on the power play. Over the series’ first three games, the Griffins went 0-for-9.

I listened to most of the game and I wish I had a buck for every time Andersson’s name was mentioned. I could buy groceries for the next month. And Nyquist’s and Tatar’s names weren’t far behind Andy’s.

If Brunner makes a mistake this summer and prices himself out of a job with the Wings, Tomas will simply step into his spot and what’s already one of the most dangerous third lines in the league won’t suffer one iota.

Detroit’s fifth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Mrazek is showing why he could be the Red Wings’ backup goalie next season.

This Oklahoma writer obviously doesn’t understand the Wings’ approach to player development. Mrazek is just 22 years old, so he’s not going to spend the year watching Howard play 65 (or even 60) games out of 82. He’ll again be the Griffins #1 goalie (probably with Jake Patterson as his back-up and 6’5” Jared Coreau as the #1 goalie with Toledo).

Mrazek will obiously be the first call-up if one is needed, and he’ll get his shot at being Jimmy’s back-up in 2014-2015. But, even then, the Wings may keep him in GR just to get him more playing time.

I’m terrified that Howard’s extension means next deadline it’ll be Mrazek for pick-an-oiler/flyer/bolt/sabre/islander…

Well, right now, Jimmy’s five-year contract does present a “timing” problem with Mrazek. But two years from now, when Jimmy is 31, he may be ready to split the duties with Petr on a more-equitable basis, something like 50-32.

And if the Wings do get an offer for Mrazek that they really can’t refuse (like a top-5 draft pick and a quality player), they still have Coreau and Patterson. Hopefully they won’t get that kind of offer until the Wings have a better idea how the latter two guys are doing at the AHL level.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 06/03/13 at 12:14 PM ET

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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.