The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/13/13 at 12:34 PM ET
Updated at 3:22 PM: The Grand Rapids Griffins lost Adam Almquist's services thanks to a hard (and unnecessary) check
from behind by Syracuse Crunch forward Richard Panik during Grand Rapids' 4-2 victory over the Crunch on Wednesday, and the Griffins practiced at Van Andel Arena this morning...
But the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner reports that Almquist did not join his teammates on the ice:
Adam Almquist did not practice Thursday, a day after he was injured in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals against the Syracuse Crunch.
Almquist, who has played in all 21 postseason games, was injured after he was checked into the boards by Richard Panik in the Griffins zone in the first period. There was no penalty called. Panik continued on the play and scored the Crunch’s first goal.
Almquist lay on the ice about two minutes. After help from the trainers, he skated off on his own power. His injury is undisclosed, but he appeared to hit his head on the boards.
“I thought that obviously taxes your D,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said afterward. “The positive for us – Adam is a great player for us, for sure – is that we have a lot of other good D. So, I thought the five, led by Nathan Paetsch – who has just been an outstanding character player all year – stepped up.”
That's USUALLY as close as one gets to an "injury update" in the AHL, and Wallner believes that the Griffins will dress Brett Skinner on Friday as a result:
In the "tailings" department, the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer wondered what the Crunch can do to rally from a 3-games-to-none series deficit...
"That's the conversation we're having right now (how to stay upbeat),'' Zettler said. "I'm 100 percent confident these guys have a lot of fight left in them tonight. We expect more of the same Friday. They know what's on the line. I think the biggest thing everyone needs to know is we're a good team.''
That won't change no matter what happens the rest of the series, which resumes Friday night in Van Andel Arena. But clearly it was a dazed Crunch team that walked out of the arena after Game 3 on Wednesday and into the Grand Rapids night.
Syracuse steamed downhill into the Calder Cup Finals on an 11-1 run in the playoffs. Now, it is one loss away from bowing out with four straight defeats.
And the Griffins, the better team on nearly every shift in the series, sense the frustration in their foes.
"I bet they do (have it)," Grand Rapids winger Tomas Tatar said. "They are not used to this. They were 11-1 and last year they were just rolling all year, and this is just something kind of new for them."
Syracuse forward J.T. Wyman isn't giving an inch until he has to, though.
"It's the best-of-seven for a reason,'' he said. "We haven't put ourselves in the easiest position, but we're not going to stop fighting until the last buzzer of the last game, and that's not going to be on Friday night in our mind.''
Thanks to a stellar performance by the line of Luke Glendening, Jeff Hoggan and Jan Mursak, the Griffins picked up a 4-2 win Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, giving them a 3-0 series lead in the Calder Cup Final against the Syracuse Crunch. All three members of the Griffins’ line scored in the Game 3 victory. But it takes four games to win the Calder Cup, and Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill won’t let his team forget it.
“After Game 2 I said, ‘That’s two,’ and after game three I said, ‘That’s three.’ Period,” Blashill said. “You gotta win four to win the series and series aren’t won with three wins their won with four.”
Still, the Griffins will head into Friday’s game up 3-0 with two chances to cap the series off at home in Van Andel Arena.
Like many league championship series, I know it sounds campy, but this series has been incredibly tight, 3-games-to-none Griffins lead included:
"The game played extremely evenly through the whole thing, much like the rest of series,” Blashill said. “I thought it was a lot like the rest of the games of the series, both teams had chances,” he said. “We probably made one more play than they did in the end. But it was an extremely hard fought game.”
A few close chances could have given the Griffins the lead as Tomas Jurco and Gustav Nyquist both were stopped by Desjardins on breakaways in the third. With less than five minutes to go, Hoggan came around the net and fired a shot toward the net. The puck hit off Mursak’s skate and past Desjardins.
“Our line has been working down low in the corners and tried to get around the net,” Hoggan said. “He was there fighting for it, hit his skate went in. That’s where he’s supposed to be.”
Hoggan added a little insurance himself with 2:28 left to play as he took a turnover and beat Desjardins top-shelf.
“Glendening, Hoggan and Mursak were great for us tonight,” Blashill said. “Overall in the playoffs they’ve been great. They’re north-south players and get pucks behind the net.”
And the Greenville Daily News's Chip Burch penned a recap, too, but, uh...Let's just say that Jan Mursak did not in fact "rip a shot" past Cedrick Desjardins, unless a puck going in off a skate counts as a "ripper":
The tie was broken with 4:49 left in the third period. Jan Mursak stole the puck in the Crunch zone and ripped a shot past Desjardins for the game-winner. Jeff Hoggan added an unassisted insurance goal when he crashed the net with the puck and poked it by Desjardins for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
“I thought in the third (period) we did a good job of managing the puck and got it behind them (Syracuse),” Blashill said. “They are a team that thrives on turnovers and we did a good job of that.”
“I thought they (Grand Rapids) took advantage of our mistakes and it ended up in the back of our net,” [Zettler] said.
Game 4 is set for Friday night at Van Andel. The game is already sold out, according to the Griffins.
“What I said to them (Grand Rapids) is real similar to what I told them after Game 2,” Blashill said. “After Game 2 I said, ‘That’s two. Period.’ We have to win four to win the series and series aren’t won with three games. We’re going to have to come with our very best effort in Game 4 to try to win the series.”
[Zettler] isn’t going to allow the Crunch to give up.
“What I know — and I’ve said this a thousand times — is we have a lot of character in that (locker) room,” he said. “I am 100 percent confident these guys have a lot of fight left in them. I think you saw it (Wednesday night.)”
The Grand Rapids Press's David J. Murray insists that no one touched the Calder Cup when it visited MLive's Grand Rapids office;
MLive's Brendan Savage reports that Wings fans want the team to use one of its two cap-compliance buy-outs on Mikael Samuelsson;
Michigan Hockey reports that the Great Lakes Invitational's starting date has been confirmed...
And the Grand Rapids Press's Steve Kaminski's comments from Wings coach Mike Babcock, which Babcock made regarding the currently AHL-only-contracted Luke Glendening, are worth repeating...
“Oh, he will play at the next level, for sure,” Babcock said. “He just knows how to play. He does things right, and he is an everydayer. When you are a coach in the NHL, that is what you are looking for.
“Glendening jumps right at me for sure. He does everything right, he competes real hard and he will challenge for a job in the National Hockey League in not too long.”
Babcock, along with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, made the trip to Grand Rapids for Game 3 and saw the Griffins defeat the Syracuse Crunch 4-2 before 10,102 fans. Grand Rapids, which is up 3-0 in the series, can lock up its first American Hockey League championship with a victory in Game 4 Friday at 7 p.m.
Glendening wasn’t the only Grand Rapids player who impressed Babcock, either.
“Obviously, (Gustav) Nyquist and (Tomas) Tatar are NHL ready,” Babcock said. “Riley Sheahan is impressive. (Tomas) Jurco may be the most improved player on the team. (Danny) DeKeyser is playing in this game, and he isn’t like he was before he was injured with a broken thumb, but he is skating better tonight.”
As is the Free Press's Helene St. James' suggestion that the Stars' trading-for-and-then-signing of Sergei Gonchar and the Flyers' soon-to-be-signing of Mark Streit changes the free agency picture for each and every NHL team that was considering signing a UFA defenseman:
Unlike last summer, when Ryan Suter headlined a considerable stable of unrestricted free-agent defensemen, this year’s crop was highlighted by Streit and Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar is gone, too; the Stars acquired his rights, then signed him to an eyebrow-raising two-year deal worth $10 million.
That leaves options like Ryan Whitney, 30, who last toiled for the Oilers. He’s a sizable 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and has had some productive seasons. He’s coming off a six-year, $24-million contract and, like everyone else, will be seeking a raise.
Other defensemen headed toward UFA status include Marek Zidlicky, Joe Corvo, Andrew Ference and Ron Hainsey.
Signing a player on the market has the benefit of costing only money, not something in return. The Wings have an excess of forwards, but in order to trade for a high-end guy — like Phoenix’s Keith Yandle, for example — it’s going to cost talented young players or blue-chip prospects or a mix of both.
There is a third way to get some help this summer — maybe. Later this month, after the Stanley Cup finals, teams will be able to trim their rosters via compliance buyouts, allowed this year and next to deal with a dwindling salary cap. Of course, no team is going to buy out its top defensemen, so whoever will be available will be someone else’s discard.
The cap compliance buy-out market's likely to determine every team's UFA plans...
The bottom line: Defensemen are a premium in the NHL, much more so than forwards.
The Wings are far from the only team seeking help. And if the prices turn out to be too steep, there’s this ray of hope: Danny DeKeyser. He’s got top-four written all over him. Top pair Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are signed. Restricted free agents Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl will be. There’s also Kyle Quincey, Carlo Colaiacovo and Brian Lashoff.
That’s pretty much the group the Wings had this past season, and they still advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
As such--put bluntly, a defenseman who skates in a straight line can earn $3 million on the open market, and one who can pass and shoot decently can earn $4 or $5 million, so at this point, it's more cost-effective for the Wings to go after a Bickell, Stalberg or Horton.
Update: the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer filed an off-day report:
The Grand Rapids side of Van Andel Arena still holds well the familiar scent of hockey well into June, and Thursday morning it had a distinct new flavor as well.
The Griffins used their mouths to say all the right things while at the same time virtually swirling a taste of the Calder Cup It's right there for them, after one more win over the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL finals.
"You can say you can taste it.You just want to get back at it (playing),'' said Grand Rapids captain Jeff Hoggan. "You're this close. You feel it. You want to envision it. At the same time, you don't want to get ahead of yourself. They (Syracuse) are extremely confident. They keep coming for sure.''
Grand Rapids leads the best-of-seven series three games to none, with Game 4 on Friday. Thursday was a day of motivation for both team, with the sides trying to buy into the same cliche for completely opposite reasons. The uniting theme was that the Calder Cup is awarded after four wins, not three. Until one side completes the task, there is no reason for euphoria or surrender.
"We're prepared for a hard-fought game. I know they are going to have lots of fight in them,'' Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said of the Crunch.
"Nobody wants to be down 0-3 in a series,'' said Griffins blueliner Nathan Paetsch. "We're confident, but not cocky. Three games mean nothing. Four means everything. Not one of these games has been easy. Everything about the playoffs has been exciting. But you don't want to get too excited and lose your focus.''
Syracuse coach Rob Zettler wouldn't share what he said to the team on Thursday, other than to say it gets down to the single point of just win one game.
"I thought last night was one of our best games of the three,'' said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "If we continue to play that way and build on it and improve on it, we'll be OK. You watch, come Friday they are going to play their butts off. We win one, there we go.''
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