The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/09/13 at 05:38 AM ET
Readers beware: auto-play highlight clips lurk within (5 of them, sorry. And no, there was no way to just post *#$%@& links, which is annoying as hell for me as well as you).
The AHL out-paced the NHL in terms of holding the first game of its championship series, and, perhaps not too unexpectedly, an NHL-style controversial call by the referees shaped the outcome of what would wind up as a 3-1 Grand Rapids Griffins win (that link goes to my recap; the scoresheet's available here) over the Syracuse Crunch in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Final (Game 2 takes place at 6 PM EDT today, and it will stream on http://www.AHLLive.com and a,ir on Time Warner Cable in NY State).
It reads like Tomas Holmstrom-era Red Wings tale in reverse: the Griffins were nursing a 1-0 lead late in the second period, and were killing their third straight Syracuse power play when Crunch forward (and Tomas Tatar's BFF) Richard Panik tipped a shot past Petr Mrazek.
As the play developed, Mrazek backed into his crease on his own, splaying with his toes spread post-to-post, and at the same time, Syracuse's Brett Connolly wandered into the crease.
Depending on how you saw the replay (and if this year's NHL playoffs have taught me anything, it's that no matter what video really illustrates, we make up our minds fast and stick with what we perceive to have happened), either one or two of Connolly's skates were planted three feet deep in the crease, though no Griffins defender was nearby, and when Panik's tip shot found the back of the net...The refs immediately waved off the goal, saying that Connolly's presence in the crease prevented Mrazek from doing his job.
As the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer notes, the Crunch disagreed with the call, while Mrazek felt that the refs made the correct ruling:
The Crunch enjoyed a power play with 1:02 left in the second when Richard Panik apparently tipped in a power play goal that would have tied the game at 1-1. Syracuse forward Brett Connolly had a skate in the crease, but there appeared to be plenty of room between him and goalie Petr Mrazek.
But referee Mark Lemelin immediately waived off the score, claiming that in establishing his position he violated Rule 69. In summation, here's how it reads:
"An attacking player plants himself within the goal crease, as to obstruct the goalkeeper's vision and impair his ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal is disallowed.''
"He (Connolly) was in the crease when the puck was on the blue line and I couldn't get out from the net when it was passed to the point," Mrazek said. "It was too late for the guy to move from the crease (after the shot) so I thought the ref made a good call."
Both Connolly and Syracuse coach Rob Zettler disputed that version.
"Seeing, the replay, it's tough. I think if I was on the blue line he (Panik) still would have scored.''
"I think the defenseman pushed our guy into it. I thought it should have been a goal. It wasn't, so we move on,'' Zettler said.
For the narrative's sake, let's get the sequence of events out of the way via TheAHL.com's recap...
The 2013 Calder Cup Finals opened with a hard-fought battle in front of a raucous crowd, but the Grand Rapids Griffins disappointed the home fans with a 3-1 victory over the Syracuse Crunch in Game 1 on Saturday night.
A standing-room-only crowd of 6,333 packed the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena for the first Finals game in Syracuse since 1938.
Grand Rapids scored the first goal of the series when Mitch Callahan, stationed in front, redirected Chad Billins' shot from the right point past Cedrick Desjardins at 6:45 of the opening period.
Petr Mrazek kept the Griffins in front with several key saves, including a point-blank stop on Richard Panik early in the second period.
Syracuse had an apparent goal waved off with 1:02 left in the second period after a Crunch player was in the crease, and the Griffins took their 1-0 lead into the locker room for the second intermission.
Riley Sheahan gave the Griffins some breathing room with exactly 8:00 left in the third period as he stepped across the blue line and fired a 40-foot laser past Desjardins to make it 2-0 in favor of the Western Conference champions.
Syracuse answered 1:19 later when Jean-Philippe Cote sent a wrister from the high slot over the blocker of Mrazek, cutting the deficit to 2-1. It was Cote's second goal in 53 career Calder Cup Playoff games, and was the first goal allowed by Mrazek on the road in his last 214:27 of play.
Gustav Nyquist's empty-net goal with 14.7 seconds remaining iced the win for the Griffins.
Mrazek (12-7) made 28 saves on the night for Grand Rapids, while Desjardins (11-2) stopped 18 of 20 shots for Syracuse, which also lost Game 1 of their conference final series with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before winning four straight.
Petr Mrazek made 28 saves and Riley Sheahan scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with eight minutes remaining as the Grand Rapids Griffins took Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals by a 3-1 count over the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
For the Crunch, it marked just their second loss in 13 games this postseason. And for their core group of 10 players who won the 2012 Calder Cup as members of the Norfolk Admirals, it was only their second defeat in their last 23 playoff contests.
Game 2 will be Sunday at 6 p.m. in Syracuse before the series shifts to Van Andel Arena on Wednesday, June 12 for the first of as many as three straight games. Tickets are available at griffinshockey.com.
After successfully killing off a too-many-men penalty in the opening minute, the Griffins began to apply pressure on the other end and broke through for the game’s first goal at 6:45. Moments after Jeff Hoggan rang a shot off the right post and then was robbed by Cedrick Desjardins on the doorstep, Chad Billins fired a shot from the point that was put home by Mitch Callahan.
The Griffins carried the play for the majority of the period, almost taking a 2-0 lead midway through when a puck bounced past Landon Ferraro’s stick as he was staring at an open net. But the fast-paced period passed without any more scoring and finished with the Crunch holding a slim 11-10 shot margin.
In the early minutes of the second period, Tyler Johnson missed his own try at a wide-open cage thanks to a tie-up in the crease by Adam Almquist, and Mrazek bailed out Danny DeKeyser by making a spectacular save on Johnson after he picked off DeKeyser’s pass from behind the net.
The chances continued for each team. Just over eight minutes in, Jan Mursak chased down a loose puck in the Syracuse zone and blasted a shot off the crossbar, then Mrazek made another tremendous save during a Crunch power play with eight minutes left, getting his left pad on a point-blank try by Dan Sexton.
Syracuse looked to have tied the game during its fourth power play opportunity with 1:02 remaining before intermission, but the goal by Richard Panik was immediately waved off due to Brett Connolly being in Mrazek’s crease.
Exactly 12 minutes into the third, off a turnover at the Syracuse blue line, Sheahan teed up a cannon that zipped under Desjardins’ left arm. But Grand Rapids’ two-goal advantage was pruned back to one just 1:19 later, when J.P. Cote connected on a long shot that sailed into the top of Mrazek’s net.
A slashing penalty to Panik with 2:01 remaining dimmed the Crunch’s chances of a comeback, and Gustav Nyquist scored into an empty net during that power play with 15 seconds remaining to seal the win.
The Griffins converted one of four power plays on the night while denying the Crunch on each of their five tries.
Desjardins finished with 18 saves.
Notes: The win was the first for the Griffins in a league final since June 3, 2000, when they posted a 6-4 win at Chicago in Game 5 of the IHL Turner Cup Finals…In its history, Grand Rapids won all previous six best-of-seven series in which it won Game 1, including each of its last two playoff rounds…The sellout crowd of 6,333 was the largest in the Crunch’s postseason history.
Before returning to Kramer's main recap. Kramer notes that the Crunch did their best to shut down the Red Wings' reinforcements to the Griffins' roster, but a slow start and power play inefficiency doomed their cause:
Syracuse failed to capitalize on its advantages in rest and home ice by playing at a notch below peak energy and allowing tallies from the types of unexpected scorers who often decide playoff series.
"I had the feeling that we didn't start the way we wanted to,'' said Syracuse defenseman J.P. Cote, who registered his team's only marker. "You're excited. You have all that time to think about it. Sometimes over-thinking the game is not the way to go.''
The Crunch has a lot to ponder before tonight's Game 2 6 p.m. in the War Memorial. Syracuse was 0-for-5 on the penalty kills and while shutting down the Griffins' top line of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson it still couldn't turn the flow of the game its way.
"There's no panic. We just didn't play our best game,'' said Syracuse forward Brett Connolly. "It's a long series. It's not over by any means. We're going on fighting here.''
The Western Conference champion Griffins beat Syracuse at its own game, putting the brakes on a Crunch offense that had been leading the AHL in postseason scoring by cramping the forwards' time and space. Grand Rapids showed no lull after its short, two-day rest after topping Oklahoma City in the Western Conference final. But the rookie Mrazek was the big eraser, turning aside several close-range bid from the Crunch.
"I thought Petr made some real big saves,'' said Griffins coach Jeff Blashill. "Sometimes big saves mask mistakes.''The only one by Mrazek came on the score by Cote, a flip from the high slot that beat him glove side to make it 2-1 with 6:41 left in the contest. Syracuse couldn't push through for the evener, and Nyquist added an empty-netter with 14.7 seconds left for the final margin.
"I just think we need to play a little more North-South,'' Crunch coach Rob Zettler said of his team's attack as a whole.
In a "spirit of the thing" column, the Post-Standard's Bud Poliquin notes that the Crunch readiliy admitted that they may have been out-goaltended, but they certainly weren't out-chanced:
"I thought their goalie (Petr Mrazek) made some big stops," explained Zettler, the Crunch coach. "Especially in the second period, I thought we had some Grade-A chances. But I didn't think, over 60 minutes, we had traffic in front of him or did enough going to the hard areas. But when we did get there, he made some good saves."
As is the norm in hockey, there was some luck involved on Saturday. The first Grand Rapids goal, for instance, was one of those knock-around jobs in the opening period that could just as easily have bounced another way. And its third was an empty-netter with only seconds showing on the clock. Meanwhile, a Syracuse goal that would have tied the affair at 1-1 late in the second period was waved off because of a supposed crease violation.
And then, of course, there were those chances that the Crunch just . . . didn't . . . convert. Some of it was Mrazek's doing; some of it wasn't. And everybody in the concrete barrel knew it.
"I don't know," said Zettler, whose outfit hadn't played in seven days, and sort of showed it. "We were just kind of scrambling and rusty and looking around instead of eliminating people. But energy-wise and rust-wise we should be fine (this evening in Game No. 2 in War Memorial). Hopefully, they'll have a little less gas in the tank because of their schedule the last week."
The Griffins definitely looked a bit mentally and physically gassed after wrapping up their second seven-game series with a Western Conference championship win over the Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday night, followed by a 10-hour bus ride to Syracuse on Thursday and a practice on Friday, but they leaned on Mrazek, got the jump on a Crunch team coming off a week's worth of rest, and yes, they did get a little lucky while rope-a-doping their way to a win, as they told the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner (who notes that a) DeKeyser was run repeatedly and b) someone tossed an octopus onto the ice...When Syracuse scored):
“When I’m busy, I like that, so I felt great today,” Mrazek said. “Guys helped me stop a lot of chances and so that is important for us tonight.”
For a brief moment in the second period, the Crunch thought they had tied the game 1-1. Richard Panik tipped in a shot on a power play, but it was ruled that Brett Connolly was in the goal crease and interfered. Crunch players celebrated, but Mrazek immediately began waving his arms. After a brief discussion, it was disallowed....
It was a rare scoring drought for the Crunch, who had at least two goals in all 12 postseason games before Saturday. In the Eastern Conference finals, they outscored Wilkes Barre/Scranton 18-8 in five games, including seven in the clincher.
The Griffins controlled the puck most of the first period and it paid off on Mitch Callahan’s goal on a tip-in off Chad Billins shot at Cedrick Desjardin 6:45 into the game. It also came after the Griffins withstood an early penalty.
“We wanted to set the tone first and not really wait to see what they do,” said [Callahan, who scored his fifth goal. “We wanted to control the game and we wanted to dictate the outcome and not wait back and see what they would do first.”
But the tempo changed in the second as the Griffins dealt with three penalty kills and were outshot 11-5 but managed not to give up a goal to enter the final period with a 1-0 edge.
“We certainly don’t want to be taking three penalties in a row,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought our penalty kill has been pretty good, but they had more zone time than we want to allow. Our PK forecheck has been one of the best parts of our game the past month, and I don’t think it was as good tonight as it has been.”
Two stats merit mentioning:
And, per Kramer:
In Calder Cup Finals history, the Game 1 winner has gone on to take the series 75 percent of the time (57 of 76).
The main highlight clip comes from SendtoNews.com, which believes in a thing called auto-play...
The Griffins' website posted a combined set of highlights and post-game interviews with Chad Billins, coach Blashill and Callahan...
WOOD TV8 posted a highlight clip...
And if you're interested in longer interviews, SendtoNews.com posted interviews with coach Zettler...
And coach Blashill:
Our sidebar story comes from the Free Press's Helene St. James, who discussed DeKeyser's status and future potential coach Blashill (DeKeyser played alongside Brian Lashoff and replaced Brett Skinner in the Griffins' lineup):
Joining a team late in a playoff quest can be challenging, but DeKeyser has two advantages: He’s a mobile defenseman with NHL-ready skills, so playing at the AHL level is no issue, and he has a fan in Griffins coach Jeff Blashill. Blashill was at Western Michigan during DeKeyser’s freshman year, and while teenage DeKeyser did not resemble 23-year-old DeKeyser, Blashill is well aware he’s adding something special to his lineup.
“He’s the type of player who can step into situations with ease just because he’s such a good skater and so good defensively,” Blashill said.
Blashill, a former Wings assistant who took over in Grand Rapids last summer, called DeKeyser a classic late bloomer.
“I’ll be honest,” Blashill said, “when he came to Western, I had no idea how good he was. He’s a real special player, especially from the defensive aspect. Danny, to me, is such an efficient player. He creates offense without giving up a lot. There’s not a lot of risk in his game. He makes a lot of little plays defensively, he’s got a long stick, he manages the puck extremely well. He very rarely tries to do more than he should. He doesn’t throw the puck away. He’s able to make those little passes that create offense.”
A lot of those descriptions echo what used to be said of Nicklas Lidstrom. While Lidstrom was one of the all-time best defensemen, DeKeyser is, at the very least, a developing top-four talent.
DeKeyser is slated to be a part of the Wings’ development camp in July; other than that, “the biggest thing for me is to keep getting stronger,” he said. “I’ll be working out, trying to gain as much muscle as I can.”
He looked good--unhurried, steady, and making generally safe plays, though he did make a few "boobles," but he was definitely targeted heavily. Hell, the Crunch targeted the Griffins, period--while Grand Rapids is bigger than the Wings overall, the Crunch's forwards are just HUGE, and they were mean...
But Joakim Andersson, who's got a Viking beard-and-a-half going, summarized the Griffins' discipline in the third period. After a tussle with Ondrej Palat in the Crunch's corner (the rink is 7 feet shorter than the regulation 200-foot-wide NHL and AHL standard, and all of it is constrained to an incredibly skinny neutral zone), with lots of pushing and shoving, Andersson simply skated back to the bench as Palat and his teammates tried to chirp at Andersson, Tatar, Nyquist and anyone else who would listen, and Andersson sat down and more or less ignored Palat's entreaties to get into trash-talking or anything more.
That was a very Red Wing-like thing to see, and if the Griffins get their skating legs back today, their discipline will be important as the refereeing in the AHL is just as fantastically inconsistent as it is in the NHL this playoff run...And the Crunch seemed to shake off their rust as the game went on.
The good news is that the Griffins have already gotten a split of the first two games of what is a 2-3-2 series (Games 3, 4 and 5 take place in Grand Rapids this Wednesday, Friday and Saturday), and they withstood the Crunch's physicality while managing the puck well and, despite giving up 30 shots, generally limiting Syracuse's chances to first opportunities in front of an un-screened and generally un-crowded Mrazek.
The only time the Griffins screwed up their defensive coverage and screened their goaltender, however, Syracuse put the puck in the back of the net, so getting off to a good start this evening will be essential.
What Red Wings-related news is there this morning? Well, as I've been saying all week, it's actually the first week or two after the Wings are eliminated from the playoffs that is one of two "dead zones" in terms of coverage (the last week of July and first week of August are also very quiet), so we have the following:
1. The Free Press's voting for the most-hated opposing team's athlete in Detroit sports ends at 11 PM this (Sunday) evening, and it's down to Claude Lemieux and Patrick Roy;
2. Montreal Canadiens forward Raphael Diaz and Wings forward Damien Brunner are still taking in the Montreal Grand Prix:
4. In the, "Proof positive that some Wings players have their exit interviews and haul ass out of town" department, Jordin Tootoo's already headed to the British Columbia Interior to spend time at his off-season home near Kelowna (we tend to forget that the Wings' playoff run ended a week short of usual Stanley Cup Final start dates, so it's a short summer for the players):
5. And given the likely levels of fatigue the Griffins' players felt at the end of Saturday's game, they quickly Tweeted and probably checked their text messages and tried to hit the hay:
6. I may toss off some Griffins-related assessments as the Calder Cup final progresses. Do you want Wings grades? And is it appropriate to start posting the Paypal tip jar given that the Wings' summer development camp's exactly a month away?
Update: The Syracuse Post-Standard's Brent Axe posted a, "Yay, Syracuse" story.
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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.