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Red Wings overnight report: Gut-check time for the Grand Rapids Griffins (and Wings roster talk)

Updated 2x at 9:25 AM. Bleh, why am I still awake? The Red Wings' AHL team so closely resembled its NHL counterpart on Saturday night that I was waiting for Larry Murphy to emerge from the ether, pop up on the AHL Live broadcast and inform me that the Grand Rapids Griffins' 33 shots over the first two periods of their 5-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night resulted in exactly 4 scoring chances.

It's not that Cedrick Desjardins has been anything less than spectacular as the Crunch walked into Grand Rapids and both averted a sweep on Thursday and forced the series to move back to Syracuse via their 5-2 win (despite being out-shot 42-22), or that Petr Mrazek's been anything other than ordinary at the other end.

It's that the grit, grind and jam that involves going to the net and staying there, obstructing a goaltender's field of vision and driving the other team to distraction while doing so was so absent from the Griffins' penalty-prone, flashy-but-futile efforts on Thursday and Saturday were so absent both an agitant and net-jamming grit that I wonder whether Tomas Holmstrom can suit up for Game 6 on Tuesday or a possible hopefully not necessary Game 7 on Thursday in Syracuse.

The AHL's website and the Crunch's website provide game narratives, but I'm going to go with the Grand Rapids Griffins' take on the game's narrative before descending into the litany of player and coach quotes:

Behind a 40-save performance by Cedrick Desjardins on Saturday, the Syracuse Crunch guaranteed that the 2013 Calder Cup champion will be determined on their home ice.

The Grand Rapids Griffins dominated much of the game – and certainly the shots, to the tune of 42-22 – but were never able to take the lead on the scoreboard, losing Game 5 of the finals by a 5-2 score at Van Andel Arena.

Despite missing out on two chances to clinch the Calder Cup before sellout crowds, the Griffins will still take a 3-2 series lead back to the Onondaga County War Memorial for Game 6 on Tuesday at 7 p.m. That June 18 game will mark the latest ever in the 77-year history of the American Hockey League.

The Crunch took advantage of a Griffins miscue to go on top 8:39 into the opening period. A Nathan Paetsch pass from behind his own net was batted down and intercepted out front by Ondrej Palat, who quickly slipped a shot past Petr Mrazek from the right side.

Syracuse made it 2-0 with a power play goal at the 16:09 mark, as Tyler Johnson threaded a perfect pass through the slot to a crashing Brett Connolly for an easy redirection. But the Griffins answered on Triston Grant’s second goal of the playoffs with 2:22 remaining, as he whipped a rebound of Landon Ferraro’s shot through Desjardins from the left hashmarks.

Tomas Tatar scored his league-high 14th goal of the playoffs during a power play 5:36 into the second following a retaliatory roughing penalty on Palat, who had rushed to the defense of Vladislav Namestnikov after Brennan Evans freight-trained him along the boards at center ice. A Crunch turnover in the neutral zone became a 3-on-1 for the Griffins, and Tatar potted a return feed from Gustav Nyquist on the doorstep to even the score at two.

The scenario marked just the second time in 17 playoff games for the Crunch that they squandered a lead, the first happening on another Tatar goal that knotted the score at one in Wednesday’s Game 3 win by Grand Rapids.

But the Crunch responded with their own power play goal – their second of the night – at 11:59, as Richard Panik waited patiently with the puck along the edge of the right circle before sending a shot inside the near post.

The Griffins outshot Syracuse 33-14 through the first 40 minutes and 20-5 during the second period alone, as Grand Rapids fell one shy of its playoff record for shots in a period and recorded the most shots allowed by the Crunch in any period this season.

Any momentum the Griffins had, though, was halted when Syracuse scored just 36 seconds into the third to push its advantage to 4-2. Mrazek stopped an initial attempt by Palat but slid too far wide of his left post, enabling Johnson to pop the puck into the vacated cage.

Mrazek, who made 17 saves on the night, denied a breakaway attempt by Johnson with six minutes left to keep the Griffins’ hopes alive, but after he was pulled early for an extra attacker, Dan Sexton scored into an empty net with 2:49 remaining to seal it.

Notes: The sellout crowd of 10,834 was the Griffins’ second straight and brought their three-game attendance during the Calder Cup Finals to 31,770, or an average of 10,590 (97.7% of capacity). Grand Rapids’ final playoff attendance of 72,360 (over 13 games) set a franchise record, and its 5,566 average will finish second in the postseason to only Hershey, which averaged 7,559 for its two home playoff games…In its history, Grand Rapids has won five of the six previous best-of-seven series in which it held a 3-2 lead, including its last two rounds against Oklahoma City and Toronto.

Three Stars: 1. SYR Desjardins (W, 40 saves); 2. SYR Johnson (goal, assist); 3. GR Tatar (power play goal)

As is predictable, Crunch coach Rob Zettler insisted that his team, which includes a significant number of players who won the Calder Cup as members of the Norfolk Admirals a year ago, is going to make the Griffins regret their mistake in letting the Crunch off the mat:

"They should have closed it out tonight,'' Zettler said. "It's going to be a long trip to Syracuse now.''

Desjardins tried to balance his team's emotions.

"We're confident, but we're halfway done. They are ahead in the series,'' he said Saturday. "There's maximum two games left. We're going to have our fans, we need to use that as a sixth or seventh player on the ice.''

Crunch forward Richard Panik thinks his team can put on a winning show for those supporters.

"Now everybody is pumped up in the dressing room,'' he said. "Everybody can't wait to play hockey Tuesday. I think we're a good team. I think we can do it.''

- Zettler said Syracuse defenseman Radko Gudas is probable for Game 6. Gudas has missed the first five games of the series with a leg injury and skated at the morning skate on Saturday, but Zettler said it was decided during the afternoon to keep him out.

At the same time, the Crunch admitted to Kramer that that Desjardins saved the day--stopping 20 shots in the second period--Zettler included:

"The second period alone could have gotten him the player of the game,'' said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "He was outstanding tonight. He's calm and cool in there and he made the big save when he had to.''

The only blip in the second came when Tomas Tatar put home Grand Rapids' only marker of the period, a power-play goal off a 3-on-1 rush that knotted the game at 2-2 at the 5:36 mark. The ice was clearly tilting the Griffins way at that point. The team had erased a 2-0 deficit and looked off to the races to pile up many more.

"To be honest with you, I thought we looked tired,'' Zettler said. "It didn't seem like we had a whole lot of energy.''


"Every shot is a dangerous shot with those types of players on the other side,'' Desjardins said of the Griffins. "We need to bring our best every game to win. I'm just playing for my life. That's all I do. We have a good group of guys here. We want to play one more game.''

Dan Sexton, Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat and Brett Connolly all scored for Syracuse. Sexton and Johnson broke open a close game by burying their markers in the third, Johnson at the 36-second mark to give the Crunch a 4-2 edge while Sexton sealed the win with an empty-netter at the 17:16 mark.

The Crunch, which was 2-for-23 on the power play in the first four games of the series, scored twice to stave off the Griffins.

The second came courtesy of Johnson, but it was set up by a phenomenal play by Palat. Palat, who paces AHL postseason scorers with 25 points, sliced through three men to put a soft shot on Griffins netminder Petr Mrazek. Mrazek made the easy save, but Johnson was there to clean up the garbage at the 36-second mark for his first goal of the Finals.

"It's good anytime you get a goal like that,'' Johnson said. "Hopefully, it can keep things going for me.''

As the Grand Rapids Press's Zach Kukkonen noted, the Griffins' fans weren't happy with the result, but Zettler was, and as such, we'll let Michigan Hockey's Matt Gajtka's recap transition us from the Crunch's perspectives to those of the Griffins' players and coach:

“I’ve been saying, Grand Rapids should’ve closed it out at home,” Zettler said. “I said ‘Don’t let us win one’ before Game 3 and ‘Don’t let us win two’ tonight. It’s going to be a long ride back to Syracuse for them.”


Syracuse also struck first in its 4-2 Game 3 loss Wednesday, but the visitors added another in Game 4 for their first two-goal lead of the series. With Grand Rapids’ Dan DeKeyser serving his second penalty of the period, Brett Connolly redirected an accurate feed from Johnson under the crossbar with 3:51 to go before intermission.

“That was a great pass through about three guys,” Zettler said. “Johnson has come alive for us a bit the last two games.”

For better or worse, the Griffins lost the second period by scoring only 1 goal on 20 shots and surrendering one on only 5 shots on Mrazek, and they paid for it, as Tomas Tatar told Gajtka:

“I was so sure we were going to pull it off after the second period,” Tatar said. “When they scored in the first minute of the third, it got a lot tougher for us.”

Closing the series won’t get any easier in Syracuse, but Tatar chose to look at the bright side of the Griffins’ situation.

“We haven’t had any easy series so far, so I guess that’s the way it’s going to be for us,” he said. “For them, it’s gotta be tough to win four in a row. We’re still in good position.”

That's the theory, and the Griffins fully believe that they can be "road warriors" of a sort, as coach Jeff Blashill told the New Holland Sentinel's Lee Lamberts:

The home team is 1-4 in the 2013 Calder Cup Finals. Game 6 is Tuesday at 7 p.m, with Game 7, if necessary, on Thursday at 7 p.m.

"We won three very close games the first three," Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think to lots of people on the outside, that hadn't watched every minute of those three games, it might have looked like it was going to be easy. We sure as heck knew it wasn't going to be easy."

History is on the side of the Griffins, who are seeking their first league championship in 17 seasons in Grand Rapids. Teams who take 3-0 leads are unbeaten in the Calder Cup Finals, winning all 22 series.


"In a lot of ways, I thought it was our best game of the series," Blashill said. "We gave up two goals that I would say were freebies. the first and fourth goals. You can't give easy goals to a real good hockey team."


Despite back-to-back losses, Blashill remains confident heading back to Syracuse.

"We talk about process all the time. If your process is good over a long period of time, outcomes follow," Blashill said. "if we play that way moving forward, I think we give ourselves a great chance to win."

The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan took note of the game's downward trajectory after the Griffins tied things up...

Syracuse forward Richard Panik scored a power-play goal at 11:59 of the second period breaking a 2-2 tie.

Then 36 seconds into the third period, Syracuse forward Tyler Johnson put back a rebound past Griffins goalie Petr Mrazek to extend the Crunch lead to 4-2.Johnson’s goal, so early in the third period and because of sloppy Grand Rapids defense, was a difficult goal to come back from mentally.

“It was tough after that, the whole team went down after that goal,” Tatar said.

Tatar’s goal, his 14th of the playoffs, tied the game at 2 at 5:36 of the second period. But it turned out to be the only goal in what was a 20 minute span in which the Griffins dominated but couldn’t convert against Desjardins.

“The puck didn’t go in,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “We played outstanding in the second period, we were all over them, we could have scored more goals. But that pressure didn’t come in the third period when we needed it.”

The Griffins had to admit that while they still believe they'll win the series...They let down the city of Grand Rapids, as the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner noted:

“Yeah, we didn’t want to (go to Syracuse), but we are still in great position,” said Tomas Tatar, who scored his AHL-high 14th goal of the postseason. “We are still just one game away from it there, too. So I’ll take that any day.”

Then there's the inability to close it out at home.

“They don’t ask you where you won it once you win it, so we’ll go out there and do what we do, “ said captain Jeff Hoggan.

"I respect how much it'll mean for this city, and I respect what it will mean for the organization," Blashill said. "But my thought process right now is so far from that. It's just working on executing and winning a hockey game."

The Griffins let their boot off an angry, venomous snake, and they've been bitten...Their antidote lies in displaying as much grit and determination as the Crunch have over the past two gaes.

In the multimedia department, the Grand Rapids Press, WOOD TV8 and the Griffins posted photo galleries;

WZZM 13 and Fox 17 posted auto-play highlight clips, and WOOD TV8 posted a non-auto-play highlight clip:

The Griffins also posted a highlight clip and post-game comments from captain Jeff Hoggan and coach Jeff Blashill:


Otherwise, it's a quiet weekend, so:

1. Paul posted the Free Press's Helene St. James' article asking whether the Wings will retain Daniel Cleary's services, and I think she stated the obvious reasons why the Wings might want the soon-to-be-35-year-old back...as well as why Cleary, who earned 48 games' worth of $3 million in real-world dollars, and had a $2.8 million cap hit, may go elsewhere:

They need a big man to provide a net-front presence on each of the top two lines. Justin Abdelkader showed he could be one of them this past season. It’s not a role that Johan Franzen performs well. Todd Bertuzzi is an option, but it’s hard miles on the body, and Bertuzzi is 38 and has a history of back problems.

Cleary has spent the past eight seasons of his career with Detroit, arriving on a tryout in 2005. He worked his way up from grunt to top-six forward, became a leader in the locker room, helped the team win a Stanley Cup in 2008, and contributed 15 points in 23 playoff games the following season as the Wings went back to the Finals.

He started out slow this past season, as did almost every player who didn’t keep on his toes by playing elsewhere during last fall’s lockout. Cleary came on in the second half, though, and soared through the playoffs.

So now the Wings have to determine: How much do they pay him to keep him in Detroit? At what point do they decide to keep the money and instead pursue someone else on the market, like potential UFAs David Clarkson and Bryan Bickell?

And on Cleary’s end: Does he take a hometown discount, or does he decide that it’s a players market, so why not see what’s out there?

Drew Miller decided that the grass wasn't greener, and the Wings happily retained him, but Cleary's a harder call. If Bickell or even Viktor Stalberg (he's not nearly as goal-scoring-oriented as Bickell, Clarkson or Nathan Horton, but Stalberg's a 6'3," 209-pound 27-year-old who skates incredibly fast and could be instructed to stand in front of an opposing team's goalie) are available, the Wings will have to decide what they want to do...

And while some of you have duly noted that Gustav Nyquist is going through the struggle that is believing that he can do everything on his own as he battles his way through the Calder Cup Final finding that AHL playoff hockey is much harder than he'd anticipated, especially given its more chaotic nature, so all those plays that resulted in fly-bys, drive-bys and goalies over-committing to his patience at the NHL level aren't working...

Nyquist and Tomas Tatar have earned NHL jobs, as has Joakim Andersson (Nyquist and Andersson are RFA's who will probably take a million-or-so bucks apiece to re-sign), and Tatar's shown that he's got Jiri Hudler's grit and jam along the boards, Cleary's defensive determination and actual skating ability.

And, as Griffins coach Jeff Blashill told Fox Sports Detroit's Art Renger--while making observations regarding a dozen Wings prospects--there are other players that aren't too far removed from knocking on the door:

Luke Glendening (RW): Luke Glendening is a rare person who has an unbelievable will and work ethic combined with an unbelievable ability to get better at things. He never played center before, but he improved his face-offs to be one of the best face-off guys in the league. I believe he will not be denied the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. (Glendening is not under contract with Detroit, but that is expected to change very soon.)


Tomas Jurco (RW): Jurco has gone from being a highly skilled player to being a very good player, there’s a huge difference. Early in the year, he was a skilled player that necessarily didn’t know how to play winning hockey. Now he’s a winning hockey player that’s extremely talented.


Riley Sheahan (C): Riley is an extremely good defensive player who has offensive ability as well, but what I’ve loved about him is that he’s very, very accountable. As Riley improves the physicality of his game, Riley will have a real good opportunity to be an NHL player.

Landon Ferraro (C): Landon has had a real good year, a breakout year in the American League. He has great speed, he has a great shot and he can score goals.  His element of speed is transferable to the NHL. Landon has had injury problems and has gone through this year, knock on wood, fairly unscathed. As he continues to develop, he has an opportunity.


Calle Jarnkrok (C): When Calle was here (he played nine games for the Griffins), it was a good experience for him to see that everything happens quicker in North American hockey. He’s going to take that lesson and apply it this summer to get better at those things. With added strength, he’s an extremely smart hockey player with extremely good skills. He needs to add strength to his body.

Teemu Pulkkinen (RW): Pulkkinen has a real good shot, the hard part for these guys (European players) is that they come in and they haven’t learned the systems. Once he becomes comfortable with the systems, it will allow his ability. He has a real ability to shoot a puck and that’s what he’s going to have to rely on to be an impact player.

The Wings' management has to think in terms of time and player development as well as roster spots, cap space and player performance, and as I've said repeatedly, the cap compliance buy-out market might change the Wings' plans in a hurry.

They can't make up Cleary's mind for him, either, and we all know that Filppula is outta here, which is why the Hotstove Tonight crew's suggestion that the Wings have at least inquired to the availability of Stephen Weiss, a 30-year-old 2-way center and former Plymouth Whaler who earned $4 million this past season. I think that Weiss will remain with the Panthers, but that's just me.

For now, we have to watch, wait and wonder and hope that the Wings coaches and management are better educated guessers than we are, and I guess this isn't a suprise to end with.

Per RotoWorld, let's all be surprised that Jim Nill plans on interviewing Jeff Blashill before finally deciding who Nill wants to hire as the coach of the Dallas Stars:

I don't know if Blashill wants to uproot his family again after shuffling from Kalmazoo to Detroit to Grand Rapids, all while his youngest son underwent heart surgery at the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor last summer, but Mrs. Nill's battling health issues, and that didn't prevent Nill from transferring her care to Dallas to pursue his NHL dream.

We'll have to wait and see what happens terms of both the Wings' player and coaching personnel's decisions. Which sucks.


Update: WZZM 13 posted an "Aaron's Adventures" video regarding playoff beards.


Update #2: The Grand Rapids Press's Dean Holzwarth found some bluster in the Griffins' locker room:

“We just have to keep going at it, and if we win on the road, we win on the road, it doesn’t matter,” Grand Rapids captain Jeff Hoggan said. “We certainly would’ve liked to win at home, but we will certainly take it going there up 3-2. We’ve never said we were guaranteed anything, so we will go there and keep working at it. We believe in ourselves that we can beat them and we will go over there and do it again.”

The Griffins peppered Syracuse goalie Cedrick Desjardins in Saturday’s Game 5 loss, and nearly doubled the Crunch in shots on goal with a 42-22 edge. Desjardins stopped 40 shots and played well, but the Griffins don’t expect that trend to continue.

The key, Griffins players said, is to keep pressuring the net.

“If we play like this the next two games, I bet lots of money we will not lose this way,” Tomas Tatar said. “There is no way their goalie will play every game like that. We’re pretty confident. We’ve won three games and they’ve won two. We just have to be positive and be ready Tuesday.”


The Griffins won Games 1 and 2 in Syracuse, and Gustav Nyquist believes the pressure now shifts to them to win at home.

“They have to win two, and we have to win one, so the pressure is on them,” Nyquist said. “If we go there and play our best hockey, then we will be successful. We’ve won two in a row there, so we feel comfortable there. It will be a good battle Tuesday, and we just have to keep playing the way we did tonight.”

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink


Vladimir16's avatar

I don’t wanna sound like a negative nelly and I hope the Griffins prove me wrong but I think they are done. Shoulda closed the door Friday.

As for whether Blashill will uproot his family if he’s offered the Stars job? Hell yeah he’d take it. Are you kidding me?

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 06/16/13 at 09:53 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

I’m burnt out. Honestly. Burnt out.

I was thinking about their bus ride. If the Griffins don’t fly to Syracuse on Monday, they’re getting a grand tour of Lake Erie. They’ll go through Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo and Rochester before heading to Syracuse. It’s a rough trip.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/16/13 at 10:51 AM ET

Bugsy's avatar

I know how someone said that Dallas has wonderful medical facilities (which I’m not going to deny), but there still is Detroit, University of Michigan, and rising up the rankings, Grand Rapids:

George, when you admit you’re burnt out, we know you’re well past that phase,.... Sleep my boy, sleep.

Posted by Bugsy on 06/16/13 at 12:23 PM ET

shanetx's avatar

I know how someone said that Dallas has wonderful medical facilities (which I’m not going to deny), but there still is Detroit, University of Michigan, and rising up the rankings, Grand Rapids:

I was the one that wrote about the hospitals in Dallas, which I stand by, but you’re spot on with regards to pediatric heart surgery.  Ann Arbor has them beat coming in at 6th compared to 19th (Detroit’s Children’s Hospital is in the 20s). 

Posted by shanetx from Floydada, Texas on 06/16/13 at 04:58 PM ET

Bugsy's avatar

I was the one that wrote about the hospitals in Dallas, which I stand by, but you’re spot on with regards to pediatric heart surgery.  Ann Arbor has them beat coming in at 6th compared to 19th (Detroit’s Children’s Hospital is in the 20s).

I didn’t expect you to not stand by your earlier statement, just that Michigan has some good hospitals, too. Good that you got the link. We’ll soon see what he decides.

Posted by Bugsy on 06/16/13 at 06:33 PM ET

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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.


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