The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/15/13 at 03:41 AM ET
The Grand Rapids Griffins' 3-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Final is not the end of the world. It sets up a Game 5 on Saturday night (7 PM EDT, AHLLive.com/WXSP in Grand Rapids/WOOD Radio), and to some extent, it was predictable given that the Griffins are such a young team that had never been on the cusp of a championship.
They took the Crunch too lightly, blowing power plays and getting caught up in the rough-and-tumble stuff involved when a team that's accumulated 1 playoff loss in three previous series' worth of play is essentially attempting to defend a title that the majority of its roster captured as members of the Norfolk Admirals a year ago.
But it was incredibly hard to watch.
It was hard to watch because we witnessed the Red Wings' younger players--some of whom were playing for Grand Rapids--commit so many of the same errors, struggle on special teams, commit some of the similar errors in terms of discipline...
It was hard to watch because a Crunch team channeling a, "Why not us" vibe, whose frickin' city's mayor waited until Friday to insist that a comeback was in a cards (to be fair, Grand Rapids' mayor trash talked right back)...
And it was hard to watch because Syracuse's best player in the series, Richard Panik, registered a goal, an assist, and, three minutes after his trash-talking saunter back to his team's bench when he'd scored what would turn out to be the game-winning goal, a spearing major and a game misconduct to one Gustav Nyquist of all people for what genuinely appeared to be a slash on the hands.
Panik also happened to spear Griffins captain Jeff Hogan in the balls from behind during the 3rd period of Game 3, and he got away with it. Not so much for Nyquist.
Whether it's Panik, Phillipe Pardis or any other of the Crunch's players trying to use their size, strength and, let's say "extraordinary aplomb in terms of physical play" to acheive an on-ice advantage, the fact that the Griffins aren't scoring on their power play has allowed Syracuse to turn a four-game series into several rounds' worth of "punishing" bodychecks inflicted upon the Griffins, an inordinate amount of shots followed up by net-front scrums and goalie-crashing in front of and then into Petr Mrazek (see: the "Chinese Fire Drill" instance in which the Crunch's players tried to cram themselves and all of the Griffins' skaters into Mrazek's net, clown-car style, in the first period), and all of that seemed to add up in the mental fatigue department.
The Griffins blew a 2-1 lead in all of 2 minutes and fifty seconds the late second period, then had to kill most of Nyquist's 5-minute major to start the third, and while Mrazek, tired of being ran, was able to take a 2-minute chunk out of that power play by diving, he was nabbed a second time, negating what would have been the team's sixth power play, and instead of staging a comeback, the Griffins played indecisive hockey, passing up shots to make passes to the point, firing wide of the Crunch net and trading rushes and scoring chances as a result, and essentially reawakening an opponent who'd haunted them in their previous pair of seven-game series: themselves.
If the Griffins hope to avoid another 12-plus hour to Syracuse (Mark Newman informed me that the Griffins had to stay in the U.S. due to the customs issues that come with taking a multi-national roster across an international border, so the Griffins will have to drive around Lake Erie, through Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo and Rochester before reaching Syracuse) for Game 6 or a possible Game 7, they need to both snuff out the Crunch in a hurry and give themselves gut-check before their guts are checked into the end boards.
The Syracuse Crunch lifted themselves off the mat and extended the Calder Cup Finals with a 3-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 4 at Van Andel Arena on Friday.
The Griffins held a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, but second-period tallies by Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik forced a Game 5 that will be played on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena.
The teams traded breakaway goals in the early going, starting when Joakim Andersson was sprung by a Brennan Evans pass, skated in and ripped a wrist shot past Cedrick Desjardins’ blocker 3:37 into the game. Just 1:27 later, after a Francis Pare pass off the boards from deep in the Syracuse zone got past Brian Lashoff at the left point, Brett Connolly chased down the errant puck in the neutral zone, kept a step on a defender and slipped a shot between Petr Mrazek’s pads.
The Griffins took another lead exactly six minutes later, as Jan Mursak crashed the net to pound home a rebound for his 11th goal of the postseason, making it 2-1 with 8:56 left in the period. Grand Rapids had two more opportunities to add to its advantage shortly thereafter, but the Crunch successfully killed off 59 seconds of a 5-on-3 Griffins power play before Desjardins robbed Pare on a wide-open chance at the 14:30 mark.
Syracuse forged another tie on the first goal of the series from its leading playoff scorer, Ondrej Palat, who blistered a slap shot from the top of the left circle that stayed along the ice and beat Mrazek 14:01 into the second. Desjardins then kept it a 2-2 contest 30 seconds later by sticking out his right pad to stone a point-blank try by Andersson.
The Crunch took just their second lead of the series at 16:52 when Panik redirected a centering feed from Mark Barberio, then got a huge break when Gustav Nyquist received a five-minute spearing penalty and a game misconduct with 22 seconds left before intermission. The Griffins killed off the first 2:34 of the penalty that carried over into the third period until Andrej Sustr was sent off for tripping, evening the sides at four skaters apiece.
Jeff Hoggan nearly capitalized on a misplay and turnover by Desjardins with nine minutes remaining, but his try from the doorstep went just wide of the net. The Griffins were presented with a power play at the 15:27 mark thanks to a hooking call on Barberio, but Syracuse’s penalty-killing unit made it 5-for-5 on the night and the Crunch held on for the victory.
Mrazek finished with 21 saves, while Desjardins stopped 26 for the win.
Notes: The sellout crowd of 10,834 was the largest in the Griffins’ AHL playoff history and tied the attendance for their second playoff game ever, an IHL Turner Cup Playoff contest on April 26, 1997…The 1-0 lead surrendered by Syracuse in Game 3 still stands as the only lead the Crunch have lost during these playoffs…In its history, Grand Rapids won all four previous best-of-seven series in which it held a 3-1 lead.
Three Stars: 1. SYR Panik (game-winning goal, assist); 2. SYR Palat (goal); 3. GR Mursak (goal)
After the game, the crowd went home so unhappy with the officiating that they littered the ice at the end of the game, as the Grand Rapids Press's Tom Mistos noted--and that's a no-no even when you've got a good reason for being pissed off:
The energy in the arena later turned a bit salty as fans threw objects on the ice to show displeasure when a late Griffins goal that would have tied the game at 3-3 was disallowed by referees.
A penalty called on the Griffins after the disallowed goal didn’t make the fans any happier as public address announcer Eric Zane told fans to “knock it off.”
“We don’t do that here,” Zane said of throwing objects on the ice.
The Crunch insisted that the Griffins made a fatal mistake in allowing them to get back into the series, as the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer noted:
"We said, 'Don't let us win one,'" said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "They should have closed it out tonight. They should close it tomorrow night, too. Don't let us win two. It's a long trip back to Syracuse."
Crunch defenseman Matt Taormina also wasn't backing down, speaking as though the Griffins were trailing the series one game to three.
"We've gone on streaks. We're starting one right now,'' he said. "The final one is the hardest to close. We're going to lay it on the line for everything.''
The Crunch played by far its most complete game of the series but had to wait until the end of the game to exhale. The team killed off a potentially game-changing run of penalties, and then had to withstand a Grand Rapids goal review with 17.4 ticks left.
What happened? Desjardins wrapped his legs around the right goalpost, and as the refs already reviewed a chance on Mrazek that they thought went in earlier during the game, they blew the whistle, the goal light went on, some Griffins thought it was in, there was much pushing and shoving...And the review was inconclusive, as you might expect when a goaltender snuggles his pads around the goalpost. Was the puck in? Who knows!
I'll let you read Kramer's insistence that everything the Griffins did near the Syracuse net was acting--and that's the word Kramer used, not the Crunch--on the would-be goal that didn't count, and instead, we'll focus on the pest that's driven the Griffins to distraction:
Panik racked up the game-winner at the 16:52 mark of the second when he tipped a pass from teammate Mark Barberio past Griffins goalie Petr Mrazek to snap a 2-2 tie.
"I think the players forgot about me,'' Panik said of Grand Rapids. "They were focusing on (Tyler Johnson) in front of the net. I was lost. I don't think they were focusing on me.''
They were focusing on Panik, but they were focusing on neutralizing his body, not his stick. The fact that the game-tying goal by Ondrej Palat was a squeaker didn't help, either, but that wasn't the most damning aspect of the Griffins' game, or the best part of the Crunch's effort, if you will:
The Crunch PK was the grittiest unit of the night with a 5-for-5 effort. In the first period, it wasted 59 seconds of a 5-on-3 Griffins manpower edge. In the middle of the second, it trashed back-to-back power plays.
The Crunch embody their coach's personality, and if you were at all familiar with Zettler's work as a shift disturber, and maybe that's why some of you are so surprised that a "Steve Yzerman team" is playing like a hard-hitting journeyman defenseman whose Hockeyfights.com-estimated 40 NHL bouts over the course of 569 games--prior to a coaching career that included time as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks and truculent Toronto Maple Leafs--doesn't take into account the literally thousands of scrums Zettler instigated...
Well, you should know that Zettler was both mean, nasty, cheap, dirty and arrogant as arrogant all get out. Thus the attitude (never mind rocking the hair gel like that big ol' bald spot doesn't exist):
"I don't see why we wouldn't take an aggressive attitude right now,'' Zettler said. "We've got a bunch of guys in that locker room who will fight right to the end. It's not over. It's a long ways from that point.''
Panik insisted to Kramer that his dropping-like-he-was-shot spiel did not come from a slash to the hands, but in fact, a slash to the groin:
Early in Game 3, Panik crushed Griffins blueliner Adam Almquist with a hard check into the boards. No penalty was called and it led to a turnover and a goal by Panik. Almquist hasn't played since. You can imagine how that went over in Grand Rapids.
In Game 4 Friday, Panik eliminated Grand Rapids forward Gustav Nyquist from the action. Nyquist struck Panik in the groin, drawing a spearing major and a game misconduct.
"I just kind of hit him. I touched him. I skated away. He speared me right there. It hurt. I went down.''
It was tough to tell on the replay, but it appears that Panik actually might have been slapped on the right hand with Nyquist's stick, not jabbed in groin. The refs bought it. Nyquist did not.
I don't know, I don't want to comment on that," Nyquist said. "He seemed alright once he saw I got kicked out."
Panik's groin was apparently not sore enough for him to start the Crunch's power play, and the most frustrating thing about watching Panik is that he's exactly the kind of player you don't want to face--and the kind of player you'd rather tolerate on your own team--because he's essentially a super-sized version of Sean Avery.
It's one thing to trash talk like nobody's business, cross-check, punch, slug and otherwise instigate your way toward infamy among your opponents and perhaps tolerance among your teammates when you've got 20-goal-scorer's potential but spend more time working on your act than playing the game. Panik's bigger than his listed 6'1" and 208-pound size (he looks like he's about 6'2" and closer to 215 or 220), he registered 22 goals and 41 points over the course of only 55 regular-season games during 2012-2013, and he's followed that up with 7 goals and 12 points over the course of 14 playoff games played.
On a team full of big, mean players, Panik's big, mean, ill-willed and incredibly skilled, and both he and Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins have played their tails off against Grand Rapids.
If the Griffins are to avoid that bus ride, they've got to find a way to neutralize Panik without acquiescing to his invitations to play cheaply.
As the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner noted, the Griffins weren't disputing the disputed goal, but they certainly had their beefs with what's become both NHL and AHL-consistent abscences of any standard of officiating--stuff that's awful for both teams:
Desperate to tie the game, and with goalie Petr Mrazek pulled for an extra skater, the Griffins had numerous shots around Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins. With 17.2 seconds remaining, the goal buzzer sounded, and then the light went off, though many of the players continued to play and engage in a fight behind the net. After a replay of just under two minutes, the goal was disallowed. It appeared to be the right call based on players and coaches review of the play.
“My understanding is the puck never went into the goal, but the only question I had was why the whistle blew,” said Griffins coach Jeff Blashill.
Said Desjardins: “They (the celebrating Griffins) just tried to get the referee to allow a goal that never went in. We deserved the game. We worked hard in this game.’’
That was the second controversial play. The first took away the Griffins most talented player in Nyquist. In the closing seconds of the second period, Nyquist, as he skated behind Richard Panik, was called for a spear and immediately given a game-misconduct. Panik lay on the ice about 30 seconds before play was stopped. What happened?
“I don’t know, I don’t want to comment on that,” Nyquist said. “He seemed alright once he saw I got kicked out.”
Panik's take: “I just kind of hit him. I touched him. I skated away. He speared me right there. It hurt. I went down.’’
Blashill said he didn't believe it was a spearing penalty.
Nyquist, who rejoined the Griffins in the middle of the Western Conference finals after playing in the Red Wings playoff run, said he had never received a game misconduct.
The Griffins tried to accentuate the positives while speaking with the Grand Rapids Press's Dean Holzwarth about having let the Crunch back into the series...
“If you said to us before the series that it was going to be 3-1 us at this point, everybody would take it,” said the Griffins’ Tomas Tatar, who was held without a point for the first time in three games. “So we’re going to refocus and we’re going to play better (Saturday). I believe we can do it (Saturday).
As is the case in any sport, winning the final game of a series is the biggest challenge.
“The last step is the hardest, and we just have to play better hockey,” Tatar said. “We have to refocus and play our best.”
Gustav Nyquist, who received a game misconduct for spearing late in the second period, said it shouldn’t be difficult for the team to bounce back from the Game 4 loss, especially on its home ice.
“I think that’s going to be pretty easy for us,” he said. “We have another great opportunity, and it stings a little bit, but we just have to forget about this. We have to come back and get after it and try to put them away.”
“Before the series started, nobody thought we were going to beat Syracuse 4-0,” said Joakim Andersson, who tallied Grand Rapids’ first goal in Game 4. “So this is just a little bump in the road here. We just have to get ready and get the win (Saturday).”
The Griffins also reiterated their points of emphasis to the New Holland Sentinel's Lee Lamberts, and there is some good news regarding Nyquist:
A league source told the Sentinel Nyquist is not expected to get suspended.
Panik, who put Syracuse up 3-2 three minutes earlier, went down near the Grand Rapids bench. Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said he did not see it as a spear.Nyquist declined to discuss his view of the play, saying "I don't know. He seemed all right when once he saw I got kicked out."
The Griffins fought only the remaining 4:22 of the penalty, earning a 4-of-4 for two minutes after a call on Syracuse. It still took valuable time away from the Griffins to even the score.
"When you're killing five minutes and down a goal, that's five minutes you're probably not going to score," Blashill said. "When you lose a player of (Nyquist's) caliber, you're not going to be as good as when he's playing. I thought our guys did a good job of killing the penalty. I thought we gained some momentum."
The Griffins were willing, however, to admit that their power play down:
Grand Rapids did not score in five power-play chances, while Syracuse went 0-of-6.
"If you translate on some of those power-play opportunities, you're in a good spot," Blashill, referring to the near-minute long, two-man advantage with 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the first period. "They're a good team. They're fighting hard. I thought we did enough good things. I think we can be better."
Andersson agreed while speaking with the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:
“Our power play wasn’t good enough,” Andersson said. “I don’t know how many chances we had but we had enough to do better there. We’ve done better earlier in the series.”
The Griffins had a power play with 4:33 left in the third period but the two best scoring chances came shorthanded from the Crunch.
An apparent tying Griffins goal - the goal judge turned on the red light and the sellout crowd of 10,834 exploded — with 17.4 seconds left was ruled no goal after referees — who didn’t initially rule it a goal — examined the replay. Replays concluded the puck never did cross the goal line and past Crunch goalie Cedric Desjardins (26 saves).
Andersson (second of the playoffs) and Jan Mursak (11th goal) scored for the Griffins. Brett Connolly added the other Crunch goal.
“You have to get to four (wins) as fast as you can and we get an opportunity (Saturday),” Blashill said. “We’re going to prepare to play a great hockey game.”
It's also worth noting that Andersson admitted that the Griffins may or may not have gotten the jitters, as noted by Michigan Hockey's Matt Gajtka:
“There were a lot of emotions early,” Andersson said. “Of course there are going to be more nerves when you have a chance [to win a championship].”
Again, the team's power play failures loomed large in their minds:
The Griffins were handed a golden chance to make it a two-goal lead when the Crunch’s Mark Barberio and Jean-Phillipe Cote took back-to-back penalties, giving the home side a 59-second two-man advantage. But despite several good looks at the net, Grand Rapids couldn’t poke a third puck through Desjardins, who appeared to gain strength as the period continued.
“Our zone entries [on the power play] weren’t good enough,” Blashill said. “We spent too much time breaking out. Once we were in the zone, I thought we could’ve shot more, especially on the 5 on 3.”
And, as Blashill suggested to the Free Press's Aaron McMann, the Griffins' growing affinity for the penalty box simply can't continue to blossom into a full-time relationship:
Nyquist, an energizer for the Griffins’ offense since returning from the Red Wings, was ejected with 22 seconds left in the second period for spearing Panik at center ice.
Afterward, Panik said Nyquist speared him in the groin. Blashill said he “didn’t see it as a spear.” Nyquist didn’t want to talk about it.
As a result, the Griffins played a man down for the first 5 minutes of the third period, minimizing any chance of posing a scoring threat.
“When you’re killing 5 minutes, that’s 5 minutes you’re probably not going to score,” Blashill said.
Here's hoping that the Griffins get back to more Red Wings-like hockey in Game 5, and not the Red Wings against Columbus kind, because Blashill's team is indeed going to have to get back on that bus to Syracuse if they don't recapture a more disciplined, determined and focused form against a bunch of Paniks and Zettlers.
For the record, Nyquist didn't add anything to the mix in his interview with Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom, sticking to the vanilla comment script.
WOOD TV aired the game, and as such, they've posted both a 2:25 highlight clip...
And a slate of interviews:
And the Griffins posted a combined slate of highlights and interviews with Blashill and Nyquist:
This speaks for itself, from We All Bleed Red on YouTube (no audio because The AHL Live feed was terribly messed up during the first period):
In terms of the parent club, Friday was a very busy day.
1. Early in the morning, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation announced that Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson had been invited to the Swedish Olympic team's summertime powwow in August;
2. Wings coach Mike Babcock and GM Ken Holland told MLive's Ansar Khan that they're not going to make massive stylistic or roster changes just because they're moving to the Eastern Conference;
3. The Wings re-signed Drew Miller to a 3-year, $4.08 million contract extension, which averages out to $1.35 million per season;
4. It turns out that Henrik Zetterberg won the NHL Foundation Player Award because his charitable foundation, like the man himself, speaks softly and gets shit done;
5. And Pavel Datsyuk told NHL.com's Tal Pinchevsky that Igor Larionov remains his hockey-playing idol as he attempts to mentor a new generation of Wings players during a Winter Classic-themed photo shoot in New York, NY.
What do I have for you this morning?
1. Let's get this straight right now. Detroit's bankruptcy does NOT MEAN THAT THE WINGS ARE MOVING OUT OF JOE LOUIS ARENA. Some moron on Pro Sports Extra claimed that the Wings are moving to the Palace, or even Yost Ice Arena, which is a third the size of the Joe.
BULLSHIT. The city owns the Joe, and it is not going to be forced to sell everything it owns in its bankruptcy. It's not going to sell the DIA's paintings and it's not going to sell a revenue-generating facility like the Joe. Who would want to buy a 34-year-old building whose lifespan is down to ten years or less? It's such an expensive facility to operate and has so many flaws that it would require a good thirty or forty million dollars to renovate, minimum, and it remains a Cobo Hall away from any restaurants, bars or outlets to the downtown area save the Riverwalk connection.
The Wings aren't going to be evicted from the Joe. And now is not a good time to try and pull a power play with a city it hopes to continue doing business with in the future.
2. In free agency news, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun says that the Habs want Bryan Bickell, and Sportsnet's Chris Johnston duly notes that Nathan Horton's shoulder injury and his history of concussions make him a high-risk proposition;
3. Drew Miller was saying "all the right things" about remaining in Detroit, as noted by the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
“It’s definitely a relief to get it done this quick,” Miller said during a phone interview with The Macomb Daily. “I’m excited to be back with the Red Wings for a three-year deal. It’s a place I didn’t want to leave. My first choice was not to go into free agency and stay with the Red Wings. This is where I wanted to be.”
Miller, 29, got a nice little raise from the $850,000 her made last season.
“The three years gives you a little bit of stability,” said Miller, who’ll make $1.35 million a season. “They won’t give you a three-year deal if they didn’t want you for that long. It feels good to get the three years, but at the same time this is pro sports you have to work hard to earn your spot every day. I’ll take the same approach I always have, the three years shows that they want you, but at the same time you need to work hard to keep it and earn something.”
After missing the final four regular season games, Miller returned for Game 2 of the Wings’ second round playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 3 against the Blackhawks, who eventually won the series in seven games.
“The team is really coming into its own right now especially with the way things finished with year,” Miller said. “Losing to Chicago was heartbreaking, but at the same time it showed everyone around the league and especially in our locker room that we have the ability to be a good team.”
“I think I found a role that I can play here and they count on me to do that night in, night out,” Miller said. “I’m taking some time off now and will start working out soon. I’m doing all that relaxing kind of stuff that Michigan summers allow you to do.”
And the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted that Miller's agent, former Wing Jason Woolley, didn't plan on taking his client elsewhere despite the fact that Miller probably could've made up to $2 million on the open market:
“From day one Drew and I always talked about building the Drew Miller brand,” Woolley said. “Build consistency within your game and be in an environment where you can play your best and be the most efficient. That’s the key to a long career, which I was able to have also. Don’t be greedy.”
“Babs (coach Mike Babcock) is a big fan of Drew’s and knows how to play him and Kenny (general manager Ken Holland) is a big fan of his. Drew is close to home and loves the organization, and how can you not? We didn’t see any reason to change his path.”
The Wings now have 12 forwards signed and $10.6 million in Capgeek-estimated cap space remaining.
4. And I need to ask permission before I do it, so: Is it time to put the Paypal button up and ask for summer development camp $$ given that it's June 15th?
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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.