The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/14/13 at 01:12 PM ET
Updated 2x at 2 PM: With the probabilty of Pavel Datsyuk snagging another Selke Trophy nod when the NHL announces its first slate of award winners this afternoon (and, as Sportsnet's Mark Spector suggests, Henrik Zetterberg being snubbed by Mark Messier in the "leadership award" department--though you can make a difference as Pavel Datsyuk faces off against Jake Allen in the TSN Play of the Year semifinals), the spotlight sits squarely upon the Grand Rapids Griffins, who can sweep the Syracuse Crunch and capture their first Calder Cup this evening at a sold-out Van Andel Arena (7 PM EDT, AHLLive.com/WOOD TV8 in Grand Rapids/WOOD Radio).
The game will indeed air on WXSP TV8 in Grand Rapids, and WOOD TV is reporting that the city's adding an extra police presence to deal with possible celebratory enthusiasm; Fox 17 reports that both local restaurants and Fox 17's Nicole DiDonato reports that Van Andel Arena's bracing for a raucous sold-out crowd while Griffins coach Jeff Blashill is attempting to keep his team on an even keel:
You could call it the calm before the storm as preparations are already going on for Game Four of the Calder Cup Finals. It was definitely the quietest Van Andel Arena has been all day. Hours before game time is when the all-important prep happens. From stocking the shelves with limited edition Grand Rapids Griffins merchandise at The Zone, to picking the right outfit.
For head coach Jeff Blashill, his five year-old daughter has the perfect tie all ready.
“Hopefully, it’s a lucky one with lots of power as she says,” said Blashill. “It doesn’t always make for an easy match but we’ll work through that.”
Game Four is essentially the 100th game for Griffins’ players this season. Athletic trainer, John Bernal, has been busy round the clock keeping the guys healthy as they’re one win away from clinching the Calder Cup.
“One hundred games is a lot,” said Bernal. “These guys are on skates, they’re flying up and down the ice, taking hits, they’re giving hits. Guys are getting hit with pucks, getting whacked with sticks. Guys are getting cuts on their faces, whatever it may be. So when you turn 76 games into a 100 plus games, that leads to a lot more bumps and bruises.”
Following a potential win, merchandise, like souvenir pucks and championship tees will be hard to come by. So do some prepping yourself.
“I wouldn’t wait till Saturday because I can’t guarantee we’re going to have it,” said Logan Hollow, store manager of The Zone. “If we have it tonight, you see it and you want it, I would buy it then.”
In a 7 AM-filed story, Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan told the New Holland Sentinel's Lee Lamberts that he was trying to keep his young players' egos in check, too:
“You’ve got to say the right things. You don’t want to give them any bulletin-board material,” Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan said. “It’s right there and it’s real close, (but) it’s not quite done yet. We’ve still got to play Game 4.”
The Red Wings' were at the morning skate...
And the Grand Rapids Griffins are pumping up their fans:
Ditto for Michigan Hockey:
The Syracuse Post-Standard's Twitter account's reporting that the Crunch will remain without Radko Gudas' services:
If you're interested, the Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer discussed the Crunch's extremely long season, and the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner offered a survey of the Crunch's stories from Thursday;
And Wallner confirmed that Adam Almquist won't play tonight (Brett Skinner will return) while offering six points of emphasis. Among them:
PENALTIES: The Griffins walk a fine line between needless penalties and a need to pester. They had two early first-period penalties, and then just two more the rest of the Game 3, a vast improvement from eight whistles in Game 2. The penalty kill, which struggled in Game 2 in Syracuse when the Crunch scored twice, stopped all four challenges in Game 3.
If the Griffins get an early lead, they will need discipline to avoid being drawn into scrums around the net and tie-ups along the boards. The line of Luke Glendening, Jeff Hoggan and Jan Mursak has vexed the Crunch. Glendening is the aggressor, Hoggan the physical veteran presence and Mursak one of the fastest skaters on the ice. They are a shutdown line that can also provide some effective offense (the line scored three of the four goals last game).
TOP LINE, GRAND RAPIDS: Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist were part of the Red Wings’ failure to close out a 3-1 lead over the Blackhawks in the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals, and then were returned to Grand Rapids. What did they learn from that?
Linemate Tomas Tatar, meanwhile, had never even been in the playoffs in three previous seasons in Grand Rapids. He has made the most of his first with a franchise record 13 goals and team-leading 18 points. The three form the most skilled line on the ice.
RISE OF THE DEFENSE: It appears defenseman Adam Almquist, who went out in the first period last game following a hard check by Richard Panik (no penalty), will miss Game 4. He did not participate in the Friday morning skate.
The positive and negative spins - The Griffins played most of last game without him and still won with just five blueliners; Almquist is an offensive defenseman (10-21-31) and his skill will be missed.
Brett Skinner, who played throughout the playoffs until the Syracuse series (when Danny DeKeyser arrived), is expected to replace him.
Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji also spoke with several of the Wings' top prospects regarding the possibility of winning a Calder Cup after earning two rounds' worth of playoff experience with the Wings--and this is just a snippet from a much, much longer, must-read article:
"Obviously, I would have liked to be playing yesterday in the triple overtime but it's definitely fun to be down here," Nyquist said after an optional practice Thursday at Van Andel Arena. "Both me and Andy, once we got the message we were going to get sent down and help the team out, we were real excited because we feel like we're a big part of this team. We played most of the season with this team and it's a great experience to be in these playoffs as young guys, too. We really enjoy this opportunity."
Said Andersson: "It's fun to be here. We played half the season with these guys and I've been doing two and a half seasons with this team and playing in this barn here. It's a good crowd here. It's fun to be able to play in the finals and go for a championship here."
In seven playoff games with the Griffins, Andersson has one goal and four assists and Nyquist has two goals and two assists. The two gained invaluable experience with the Wings in two seven-game series against the Anaheim Ducks and Blackhawks.
"You learn lessons as you move through a season and certainly the fact that they went through a couple of grueling playoff series in Detroit helps them and helped prepare them for the games 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the last series," Blashill said. "They were a few of the players that had been in a seventh game. Those are great experiences. Like the rest of our players, they learned all year and had the opportunity to learn in some unique situations in Detroit."
Nyquist and Andersson learned from painful experience that a 3-1 lead over the Blackhawks didn't guarantee a series win so they know that a 3-0 lead over the Crunch doesn't mean much -- yet. Game 4 is Friday night in Grand Rapids.
"I think we said it right away," Nyquist said. "We said it after the game (Wednesday) night. Obviously we want to enjoy it but at the same time nothing's done yet. If it were done, we'd be standing here with the trophy and we're not. We've still got work ahead of us. The fourth game's always the toughest one to win, that's what I've learned in my short time in the playoffs. We're ready for a battle (in Game 4)."
I strongly suggest that you continue reading Wakiji's article...
Update: Michigan Hockey's Pat Evans discussed the Griffins' desire to keep the Crunch from getting up off the mat:
Although the Griffins could let that advantage go to their heads, head coach Jeff Blashill said after Game 3 that won’t happen, and the team will continue to play the way it has the whole series. He said the team has only won three games and it takes four to bring home the cup.
“We’ll get that message across to them. Part of human nature is to control your emotions,” Blashill said. “The only way to win hockey games is to play great hockey. Good outcomes always follow good process.”
Grand Rapids captain Jeff Hoggan has a Calder Cup win, from his rookie season in Houston, but after the Game 3 win, he was a little excited.
“It feels good, it feels really good,” Hoggan said after Game 3. “(The crowd) was electric. It was awesome. The passion is starting to spread, whether they’re late to the party or not.”
The Crunch had made it to the Final winning all but one game in the playoffs. Now they’ve lost three straight, including two at home in Syracuse, with 10 players from last season’s Calder Cup winning Norfolk Admirals on their roster. Although it’s a 3-0 lead in the series, Blashill knows anything can happen with four possible games left to play.
“It’s two really good teams playing,” he said. “We’re here for a reason. We’re here because we have a great combination of character and talent. That’s why we’re in this series. Syracuse is in this series for the same reasons. So it becomes a battle between two great teams. For us we’ve been able to make a play or two on the right side and that’s been allowed us to have the series lead.”
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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.