The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/30/13 at 06:27 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings' AHL affiliate has out-lasted its parent club, but it had a rough outing on Wednesday night, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL's Western Conference Final. The Griffins now trail their series 2 games to 1 with back-to-back games scheduled for Friday and Saturday in OKC.
The Griffins' website provides a superb recap:
For the first time during the playoffs the Grand Rapids Griffins have lost consecutive games, falling 4-1 to the Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at the Cox Convention Center.
The Barons pounced on Griffins turnovers and miscues to seize a 3-0 lead in the first period before limiting the visitors’ chances the rest of the way, yielding only a goal to Chad Billins with 4:54 left. Oklahoma City outshot Grand Rapids 33-21 on the night – on the heels of its 37-22 advantage in Game 2 on Saturday – en route to grabbing a 2-1 series lead.
The Griffins will play the second of three straight games in Oklahoma City on Friday. Game 4 will face off at 8 p.m. EDT.
A potential Barons goal 3:20 into the opening period was nullified because Taylor Fedun batted the puck into the net with a high stick, but Oklahoma City scored two more that counted before the game was nine minutes old. First, a pass in the Barons’ end slid through two Griffins and was intercepted at the point by Ben Eager, who was off to the races with Nathan Paetsch in hot pursuit. At the top of the circles, Eager teed up a slap shot that rocketed between Petr Mrazek’s pads at the 7:14 mark.
Just 1:11 later, with the Griffins preparing to break out of their zone, Riley Sheahan attempted a pass up the slot from behind his net that was picked off on the doorstep by Josh Green, who quickly turned and fired the puck inside the far post for a 2-0 Oklahoma City lead.
The Barons struck again with 3:25 left in the frame. Jeff Hoggan and Philippe Cornet got tangled up above the right circle in the Griffins’ zone with no call, and when Cornet got loose and drove unopposed to the net, he potted Brandon Davidson’s centering pass for an easy backdoor goal.
The Griffins were unable to manage much against Yann Danis, registering only six shots over each of the first two periods, but Mrazek kept them within striking distance with some stellar play during the second frame. He made several consecutive point-blank stops during a Barons power play with nine minutes remaining, then stopped a 4-on-1 break with six minutes left.
Grand Rapids finally got on the board with 4:54 left in the third, as Billins connected on a shot from the right point to ruin Danis’ shutout bid. Mrazek stopped a breakaway by Teemu Hartikainen with 3:20 remaining before leaving in favor of extra attacker, but Jonathan Cheecho provided the final margin when he picked off an errant pass by Brett Skinner and tossed the puck into the empty net with 1:17 showing on the clock.
Danis made 20 saves while Mrazek stopped 29 shots in defeat.
Note: Over their first 34 playoff periods, including the first frame of their Game 1 victory, the Griffins were outshot only five times. The Barons have since outgunned Grand Rapids for eight straight periods.
As the Edmonton Oilers follow their AHL affiliate closely, EdmontonOilers.com's Ryan Dittrick was dispatched to Oklahoma City to cover the game, and he noted that Ben Eager's impact was felt literally and physically:
In one of the most dominant physical performances of the post-season, Eager was a menace to contend until his night came to an early end. When former Baron Triston Grant leveled Tanner House with a dirty hit along the sideboards, Eager came to the defence of his unconscious teammate, chucking punches and stirring the already bubbling pot of bad blood.
"I think it was a dirty hit," said Eager. "I saw it at the last second. Anytime you see a teammate of yours out cold on the ice, there's usually some foul play there. I went over and whatever happened, happened. I got a little carried away after. I just don't know how the ref doesn't make a call when someone is old cold on the ice like that."
While the Griffin escaped unscathed, Eager was assessed 17 minutes in penalties and a game misconduct (abuse of the officials).
"It was described to me as a shoulder-to-shoulder hit," said Green.
"I've never seen anyone get knocked out cold from a shoulder-to-shoulder hit," added Eager. "That's why I got frustrated with the ref. When he's looking at it and someone's old cold on the ice, it's not usually not a shoulder-to-shoulder hit."
House was taken to hospital as a result. There is no update on his condition, but was responsive and "in conversation" with medical personnel.
The Oklahoman's Michael Baldwin noted that the Barons dominated on the scoreboard...
The Barons led 3-0 after the first and second periods. After Grand Rapids finally broke through, veteran Barons forward Jonathan Cheechoo clinched the win with an empty-net goal with 1:17 left.
A key stat has been Grand Rapids had outshot its opponent in every game the first two rounds but the Barons own a commanding 98-71 edge in shots on goal the first three games of this series. OKC outshot the Griffins 33-21 on Wednesday after a 37-22 edge in Game 2.
“We're trying to be efficient breaking the puck out,” [Barons coach Todd] Nelson said. “Tonight, we had a rough go at the start but got better as the game went on. The big thing is managing the puck properly, getting pucks in deep and applying our forecheck. When we're forechecking well we usually have good zone time.”
The Barons led 3-0 after one period, but Nelson wasn't pleased.
“We were opportunistic,” Nelson said. “I thought we got some breaks, and some bounces went our way on all three goals. We had to straighten that out and play the right way. I felt we were taking some shortcuts.”
The Barons turned three Grand Rapids mistakes into a 3-0 lead. Ben Eager got behind the defense for a breakaway, scoring from the high slot on a 25-foot wrist shot. Just over a minute later, team captain Josh Green knocked down Riley Sheahan's pass by the side of the net, turned and fired to score his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Philippe Cornet, left unguarded, scored off a beautiful pass from Brandon Davidson with 3:25 left in the opening period.
“We finally got some breaks,” [Jonathan] Cheechoo said. “But we've done the right things for so long we finally were rewarded with a few breaks.”
And the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner tells the Griffins' side of the story--briefly:
Coach Jeff Blashill didn’t think the Griffins played well after a 4-2 loss in Game 2 on Saturday, and Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan has similar remarks about Game 3.
“It was not our best effort by any means,” Hoggan said. “Tomorrow we’ll take a look at what we did wrong, reassess and we got to come back with a better performance on Friday.”
Defenseman Chad Billins scored the lone Griffins goal with just under five minutes remaining, moments after Mrazek was pulled for an extra skater. He redirected a shot from Tomas Tatar.
In the multimedia department, the Oilers' website posted a highlight clip...
The Griffins' website posted a Flickr photo gallery and a set of highlights which include post-game comments from Jeff Hoggan and Griffins coach Jeff Blashil...
And WOOD TV posted a highlight clip:
In terms of the parent club, given that the Wings' Game 7 loss was heartbreaking, the combination of righteous indignation for the Walkom call and praise for the non-call on David Bolland's boarding of Gustav Nyquist on the play that led to the game-winner in both text and on video...
Do you really want to read about how darn stinky it is that the Wings and Hawks will no longer be divisional rivals?
If you wish to read the Free Press's Steve Schrader's recap of the broadcast follies from last night (damn straight, NBC made sure to post the video of Mike Milbury and Keith Jones having a hissy fit about the Walkom call online), and I will post these, because they're offensive as far as I'm concerned--mostly because it was the tip of the "'objective media' trash-talking at Wings fans" iceberg:
When Walkom made his bizarre call...
And when Seabrook scored...
Here's what the Wings' players had to say about last night's game:
Otherwise, NHL.com's Corey Masisak's "Crawford and Howard have raised their Olympic profiles" angle has been covered, but the Free Press's Helene St. James discussed Howard's preparations going into Game 7, and what Niklas Kronwall had to say about the valiant goalie afterward...
“I wish we could have won this series for Howie,” Niklas Kronwall said. “I thought he really deserves it. He gave us a chance every night.”
Howard had gone through three Game 7s before Wednesday, improving his record to 2-1 after besting Anaheim earlier this month, on the road. His overall numbers in those three games were a respectable 2.02 goals-against average, and a terrific .938 save percentage. Three games may not sound like oodles of experience, but every one of those events made Howard better prepared for the next one.
“You don’t get as jittery, you don’t get as nervous,” Howard said. “I look at them as though they’re a lot of fun; it’s down to the last game and you lay everything out on the line, that’s the only thing you can ask of yourself.”
Howard learned to be this cool from one of the most relaxed goalies to ever play the game: Mentor and longtime friend Chris Osgood. With Osgood and goalie coach Jim Bedard behind him, Howard has learned not to doubt, just to do.
“Oz, I think he’s passed on about as much wisdom as he can give me,” Howard said, laughing. “He’s taught me a lot. Having him and Jimmy in my corner at all times has been great for me. They’re two guys that I can bounce ideas off. They’ve always been there for me, so it’s two great relationships.”
And this is from Masisak:
"Any time you have a goaltender, and I'm sure they feel the same about Crawford, that's going to give you a chance, that is what you want," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "I've had [Jean-Sebastien] Giguere and [Chris Osgood] and [Dominik] Hasek. When your goalie is good, even when they give up a bad goal, you don't think about it. When your goalie is not good, every [goal] that goes in you analyze. It is way more fun this way [with a good goalie], so let's just go play."
Babcock stated that Damien Brunner was playing injured during the Wings-Hawks series, which explains why he was rarely able to take more than snap shots, but the Free Press's St. James took note of the fact that his happy-go-lucky demeanor never left him:
Brunner finished the playoffs with five goals, consistently scoring for his teammates, consistently making them just as happy off the ice with an approach that underscores the importance of enjoying events even whether they go your way or not.
“Just work hard, enjoy life,” Brunner said. “You live only once, so you have to enjoy the time you have.”
This was overheard by Bertuzzi who yelled, “that should be on T-shirt,” and laughed.
Through the ups and downs of the season and playoffs, Brunner has remained consistently optimistic. He went through a slump in March when he didn’t score, and then he sat out a few games with a sore hip flexor. When he returned, he was off Henrik Zetterberg’s line and on one with Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist, both of whom have benefited from being around Brunner.
“He’s a very happy person, fun person to be around,” Nyquist said. “He’s good at handling pressure.”
Andersson said Brunner “is always smiling at the rink, outside the rink. He likes playing hockey and if you have a bad day, maybe you can look at him and get a smile on your face.”
“It’s every day he comes in, smiling,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “We’re like, ‘what’s up, Bruns? What’s so funny?’ He just laughs by himself. He’s always on his phone, too, I don’t think he leaves that for more than 20 seconds at a time. It’s fine. He knows where to be to get the goals. He’s in good spots. He’s been effective for us.”
And in the future tense, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan looked at seven Red Wings players whose stock improved over the course of the Wings' 48 regular season and 14 playoff games. Among them (he lists seven players):
Justin Abdelkader: At 26, he's a bit older than some others on this list, but Abdelkader's ascent during these playoffs was something. After not scoring the first 23 games of the season, Abdelkader wound up with 10 goals and was a big, rugged winger who complemented Pavel Datsyuk on Datsyuk's line.
"The biggest improvement out of anybody has been Justin Abdelkader," Babcock said. "He was our fourth-line center (to start the season) and suddenly he's playing with Pavel and he's a dominant, physical guy for our team."
Damien Brunner: His defense isn't the greatest and it appears Brunner will be prone to hot-and-cold goal-scoring streaks, but you can't help but remain intrigued about what this guy could do in the future.
Though 27, it appears sometimes Brunner is more raw to the NHL than players three or four years younger than he is. But Brunner has a great shot and appears to have a knack to finding scoring spots on the ice.
Jakub Kindl: The Red Wings have waited a long time but Kindl, the 2005 first-round draft pick, appears ready to fulfill his promise. Kindl has size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), mobility and improved his defensive game.
Gustav Nyquist: It took a while before the Red Wings felt the time was just right, but once they brought Nyquist, 23, up for good, it made them a deeper and better offensive team, particularly in the playoffs.
His speed and quickness bothered Anaheim in the first round and he has good chemistry playing with Andersson.
This is an FYI from the Dearborn Press & Guide's Joe Slezak...
Former Detroit Red Wings “Grind Line” member Darren McCarty’s visit to ValuLand, 22541 Michigan Ave., has been rescheduled to 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, June 3.
He was supposed to be there Tuesday, but was in Florida and had a flight delay.
McCarty will be signing autographs and the Red Wings will bring interactive games, like an electric hockey net, tunnel and inflatable mini-rink. There also will be cutout photos of the Stanley Cup and Red Wings players Jimmy Howard and Henrik Zetterberg.
McCarty, 41, played for the Red Wings for 15 seasons and the Calgary Flames for two. He was part of the Wings’ championship teams in 1997, ’98, 2002 and ’08. His final season was 2008-09.
And I need to state this now: I ain't going nowhere and Wings coverage will continue throughout the incredibly short summer.
The Wings are going to clean their lockers out either today or tomorrow, and those days are always SUPER BUSY, but even after that, people are going to be doling out end-of-season interviews, grades (me, too in that department) and free agent forecasts...
The draft is on June 30th, free agency starts on July 5th, and the Wings' summer development camp starts on July 9th, and I've got $22 in my bank account due to that fun computer crap in late February and early March, so I'll be a beggin' for trip $ sooner than later.
To me, this "summer" is going to be incredibly short. There will be a few quiet weeks in June between the end-of-season stories and the draft, and between the end of the summer camp on the 17th and when the Wings return to town in late August, things will simmer down, but the mom and I can't afford to go on vacation this summer, so I'm gonna be around...
And aside from re-learning how to do things like go grocery shopping (today or tomorrow), sleep for more than 5 hours at a time and actually see my friends and/or watch hockey games from places not perched behind laptop screens, it's gonna be hockey hockey hockey recharging and hockey hockey hockey...
Because I hope to attend training camp and things like the Winter Classic in person. Health and $ remain issues, but I am aiming to work toward some sort of semi-regular presence at the occasional Wings game and practice next year, and that involves getting my shit together this summer.
So I'm gonna be busy, and if you're done till September, I thank you for reading, but if you're hangin' around, it's going to be a busy and relatively short off-season.
Update: Tremendously ironic, per NHL.com's Corey Masisak:
Mike Babcock has a phrase he likes about the early part of a hockey game -- he wants his team to "start on time."
The Detroit Red Wings started on time against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, but an injury to forward Valtteri Filppula early in the first period Wednesday night left them scrambling. Detroit was eliminated in a 2-1 overtime loss.
Filppula finished a shift and went to the bench, but Blackhawks forward [Andrew Shaw] was there near the door. Stalberg had already engaged with one of Filppula's teammates on the ice and at least one sitting on the bench before he turned and knocked Filppula to the ice at 3:43 of the first period.
The replay showed [Shaw] kicked Filppula's leg out from under him, or "slew-footed" him. Babcock's response to a question about the scrum was only, "You can see the video. You decide."
A team spokesman said Filppula has a high ankle sprain. Babcock said, "He's hurt. He'll be ready for camp."
"I was disappointed we lost [Filppula] early," Babcock said. "I thought we could have been a lot more dynamic. He's one of top-four forwards. I thought our guys hung in there and they battled hard just like they have all year long."
Contrast the fury that Mike Milbury and Keith Jones rained down upon Stephen Walkom...
With Olczyk, Emrick and McGuire watching the Shaw slew-foot.
Yes, that's McGuire praising Shaw for going after Zetterberg, and stating that it is what became NBC's new catchphrase outside of, "Subtle interference," the old, "GOOD NON CALL!"
This may be the last time we see Filppula in a Wings uniform. After the game?
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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.