The Malik Report
Red Wings playoff prospect news: Griffins on the ropes; Mantha helps Val-d’Or win first Mem Cup game
by George Malik on 05/16/14 at 11:35 PM ET
Updated substantially at 2:27 AM: Posting this and will flesh it out with recaps shortly:
In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins are on the ropes now, facinga 3-games-to-2 deficit and possible elimination from their attempts to "Defend the Cup" thanks to a 3-2 OT loss to the Texas Stars. The Griffins had to rally from a 2-0 deficit in the goals department, and they out-shot Texas 40-29, but lost early in OT.
The Griffins will have to win Games 6 and 7 on Sunday and Monday in Austin, Texas to advance.
And at the Memorial Cup, Anthony Mantha scored the only goal the Val-d'Or Foreurs needed to open the tournament with a 1-0 win over the host London Knights.
Val-d'Or won't play again until Monday's match-up with Tyler Bertuzzi's Guelph Storm on Monday, giving the team two days ot recover from their seven-game QMJHL championship series; Bertuzzi's storm will take to the ice tomorrow to battle the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Update: Regarding the Griffins, I'm gonna be honest: I don't know whether Grand Rapids can match the Stars. When Bob Kaser suggested that the Stars might be the best team in the AHL left in the playoffs, I didn't think he was wrong, and even though Jordin Tootoo, Landon Ferraro and Tomas Jurco returned for Friday's 3-2 OT loss, I have this unnerving feeling that the team's missing Adam Almquist and Alexey Marchenko's puck-moving skills on the blueline to the point that the Griffins can't answer the Stars' lightning-fast transition game.
The Griffins must, must, must shut the Stars down on Sunday and Monday if they are to advance, and they need some help from their third and fourth lines in the scoring department, but the unsaid statement needs to be made, too: Petr Mrazek's got to be better. He's let some goals go by him on the rush that have to stay out.
Anyway, the Griffins' website posted a recap...
Chris Mueller blew a slap shot past Petr Mrazek’s blocker and inside the far post from the right faceoff dot 3:18 into overtime to give the Texas Stars a 3-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday at Van Andel Arena.
As a result, the Griffins are faced with the challenge of winning consecutive games at the Cedar Park Center, where the Stars haven’t lost two straight since Feb. 2-4. While Texas now has a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinals, the defending Calder Cup champions have never lost an elimination game under coach Jeff Blashill, going 2-0 when a loss means going home.
Game 6 will face off at 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, while Game 7 would take place Monday at 8:30 p.m. EDT if necessary.
The game perfectly mirrored the series so far, with the Stars going up 2-0, losing their lead then eventually escaping Van Andel Arena with a 3-2 margin.
The Stars built their lead early in the opening period. During a power play, Mike Hedden stood on the doorstep and deflected Jyrki Jokipakka’s shot from the right point past Mrazek at 6:36, before Brendan Ranford slammed home a fat rebound from the slot 59 seconds later for his fifth goal of the series.
Mitch Callahan put Grand Rapids on the board with a power play goal 11:22 into the second, getting his stick blade on Tomas Jurco’s low shot to redirect the puck over Jack Campbell’s left pad. It marked Jurco’s 21st career playoff point, tying him with Tomas Tatar and Kevin Miller for seventh place on the Griffins’ postseason scoring list.
With 4:44 left before intermission, Xavier Ouellet was awarded a penalty shot after being impeded by Patrik Nemeth during a breakaway, but Campbell got a piece of Ouellet’s wrist shot to keep the Stars ahead by a goal. But not for long.
Teemu Pulkkinen blasted the equalizer past Campbell from the top of the right circle at the 17:57 mark, one-timing Cory Emmerton’s feed for his team-leading 10th point of the playoffs.
The teams combined for 27 shots in the third period, with Grand Rapids holding a 16-11 advantage, but strong goaltending on both sides sent the game to overtime. The Stars, however, were forced to put Cristopher Nilstorp into the game with 1:59 remaining in regulation due to an injury sustained by Campbell.
Mrazek, who surrendered the Stars’ first two goals on the fourth and fifth shots he faced, made 20 consecutive saves before ceding the game-winner to Mueller, the former Griffin. Nilstorp logged just 5:17 between the Stars’ pipes but earned the win by stopping the four shots he faced, including three during overtime.
Notes: The crowd of 8,057 was the ninth-largest in Griffins playoff history and the fourth-largest for a non-finals game (AHL or IHL)…The winner of this series will face third-seeded Toronto in the Western Conference Finals. The Marlies finished off a sweep of the second-seeded Chicago Wolves with a 4-0 victory tonight in Toronto…In AHL history, 80.8% of teams that won Game 5 of a 2-2 best-of-seven series went on to advance. The last team to lose Game 5 and then win Games 6 and 7 was Texas (2010 vs. Hamilton).
Three Stars: 1. TEX Mueller (game-winning goal); 2. GR Jurco (assist); 3. GR Pulkkinen (goal)
As well as a Flickr photo gallery and a set of highlights and post-game quotes:
And the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner spoke with the Griffins' coach and players (there's a 17-image photo gallery embedded in his recap)...
“I know we’re down 3-2 but it’s not over yet. We’re going to win both games,” [Mrazek] said. Asked about it again, he added: “We have to. That’s all that matters, right? We’re playing for wins. They have three but we’re going to get two more.”
It was the first overtime playoff game at Van Andel Arena since April 22, 2009 when the Griffins lost 4-3 to Hamilton in Game 4 of the divisional semifinals. The Griffins appeared to be caught on a line change on the goal.
“I think we did a little, but they did a number of times during the game on us, too,” said Stars coach Willie Desjardins. “Funny game, hockey. I thought they outplayed us tonight, but we got the win. We’ll take that.”
The loss for the Griffins came after they rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the first period.
“I was pleased with how we played pretty much throughout the whole game,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “Maybe not the second half of the first period, but overall I was real happy with the process. Unfortunately we needed one more goal and we weren’t able to score.”
Blashill said the team won’t look at winning two games in Texas. He said the focus will be on winning Sunday.
“That’s the first thing we look at,” he said. “How do we deal with it? It’s 3-2. You don’t win series at 3-2. You win it by winning four. Let’s go win Sunday.”
As did Michigan Hockey's Pat Evans:
“They scored two goals, but we didn’t think we played bad,” Jurco said. “Sometimes you don’t know, you make little mistakes.”
Grand Rapids came back with a flurry of offensive chances in the second period, where they outshot Texas, 16-7. With that offensive outburst, the Griffins tied the game up at 2-2.
“We came out in the second from the very first shift and played very well,” Blashill said.
The third period was a culmination of the first two periods as both teams had several chances but couldn’t capitalize on any of them and sent the period into overtime.
A back and forth first three minutes of overtime eventually led to a bad line change for the Griffins and Mueller took advantage with a big wind-up and a shot that blew past Griffins goalie Petr Mrazek.
“Right-hand guy from the side, just went in,” Mrazek said of the goal. “Nothing else to say about it.”
In London, Mantha scored the only goal his team would need because Antoine Bibeau was fantastic, stopping 51 shots, and the London Knights' players praised their opponent while speaking with the London Free Press's Ryan Pyette:
The Val-d’Or goaltending hero and Maple Leafs prospect stopped 51 shots, including a Bo Horvat third-period penalty shot, to lead the exhausted Quebec league champion Foreurs to a 1-0 squeaker over the Cup hosts before 8,663 Friday night at Budweiser Gardens.
It was London’s first Cup loss on home ice after a perfect run nine years ago. It was the first time in four tournament appearances Dale Hunter’s team dropped its opening game.
It’s also the first Cup shutout since Owen Sound’s Jordan Binnington against Kootenay in the 2001 event at Mississauga.
“He stoned us,” Horvat, the Vancouver first-rounder, said. “He kept them in the game at times. We had at least 10 missed nets, too, so we could’ve had 60 shots. We shouldn’t be missing the net on prime opportunities like that. They capitalized on their one chance they had and we couldn’t bear down.”
Penalty shots at this tournament are rare. But Horvat, playing in his third straight Cup, had an attempt last year in Saskatoon against the host Blades in a tiebreaker. He scored on Andrey Makarov and the Knights rolled to a blowout win.
“It was a critical moment and I’m kind of kicking myself for not scoring,” he said. “The goalie made a great save on me. I maybe didn’t fake him as much as I would’ve liked to that time. He read it pretty well.”
Mantha deferred praise for his goal and praised his goaltender instead--and oh look at who was in town!
The Foreurs just tried to hang on after Red Wings first-rounder Anthony Mantha scored his 82nd goal in 82 games this season. The 6-foot-5 forward broke free in the first period and got the puck over the outstretched pad of 6-foot-6 Knights goalie Anthony Stolarz.
“It managed to pass through,” said Mantha, who produced in front of Detroit head coach Mike Babcock. “Stolarz played an amazing game — only one goal (on 28 shots) is a great performance by him, but this was the Bibeau of the whole year. He was just himself. I couldn’t count on two hands the times he has played like that.”
Mantha and Bibeau also spoke with the Canadian Press's Donna Spencer about their team's win...
"It really was Bibeau who made the difference tonight," Foreurs forward Anthony Mantha said. "Winning this game gives us a little break, gives us two days off and we come back strong on Monday. It's just a confidence-builder for our team in general."
Mantha, a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, scored in the first period for his 82nd goal in as many games for the Foreurs this season.
Among Bibeau's pivotal saves was getting his blocker on a penalty-shot attempt by London forward Bo Horvat early in the third period and stopping Knights captain Chris Tierney on a breakaway in the first. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect faced an average of 40 shots a game in the final four games of the QMJHL final series against the Drakkar, which set him up for Friday's performance.
"In the last couple of weeks I was used to receiving lots of shots, so I think I was just ready and I was just trying to give the team a chance to win tonight," Bibeau said. "We wanted to get the first win as quick as possible."
As did coach Mario Durocher...
"We need to play a little bit better defensively," head coach Mario Durocher said. "I think at one point we were mentally tired and we started to run all over in our defensive zone."
And the CTV News London's Kathy Rumieski noted that Bibeau got a little lucky, too:
Val d’Or goalie Antoine Bibeau about a 200-foot save that he made at the last second after realizing action had resumed. “The crowd started getting really loud. I didn’t notice there was five seconds delay. (He was watching the replay). I saw the puck at the last second. It was an easy save, but a key save.”
NHL.com's Adam Kimelman also posited a short recap...
“[Bibeau] was outstanding," Val-d'Or coach Mario Durocher said. "Our goalie was really good and there were no second shots most of the time."
Mantha supplied all the offense Bibeau needed. Late in the first period he broke up a play in the defensive zone and passed to Colorado Avalanche prospect Samuel Henley cutting through the middle of the ice. Henley sent the puck back to Mantha in the right circle in the London end. He stepped around Knights defenseman Brady Austin as he drove to the front of the net and tucked the puck under Stolarz with 3:40 left in the first period.
Mantha was the only player eligible for the 2013 draft last season to score 50 goals. He followed that with QMJHL-high totals of 57 goals and 120 points this season, followed by a league-leading 24 goals in 24 playoff games. He also led Canada with five goals and 11 points in seven games at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Val-d'Or had chances to extend its lead but went 0-for-4 on the power play, including two 5-on-3 chances in the first two periods. Mantha also hit the crossbar in the first period and was stopped on a breakaway in the third.
Sportsnet posted a 1:40 highlight clip...
In a 3:45 clip, coach Durocher spoke with Sportsnet about his team's win...
RJ Broadhead and Sam Cosiento raved about Mantha and Bibeau...
Sportsnet's Jeff Marek, John Shannon and Damien Cox weighed in...
And as Sportsnet's interview with Bibeau is wonky--you can watch Bibeau and Mantha speak with Sportsnet on the Memorial Cup website, but it's not an embeddable clip--we'll close the multimedia portion of this entry with some "sights and sounds":
En Francais, Bibeau and Durocher spoke with L'Echo Abitibien...
"We had to win a game as quickly as possible in the preliminary stage," said the Drillers' masked man. "We held on to our lead, but from the third period, we were tired. Our energy was missing."
"A big win! It takes away the pressure and places it on the shoulders of the other teams. Now we have the chance to recharge our batteries," said Mario Durocher. "We had the chance to take a serious lead in the game during the two five-on-threes. But at some points we were tired mentally, and running around in our own end. It'll be better in our next game."
And the Abitibi Express's Valerie Malthais:
"Bibeau was good, he was confident, he stopped a penalty shot and made the first saves. That's exactly what he's asked to do, " said head coach Mario Durocher. "Now we'll play better defensively, because even if we didn't let them get secon chances, the Knights had several quality ones."
Mario Durocher and Anthony Mantha called this game crucial before the opening faceoff, since the first victory virtually guarantees a semifinal game for the green and gold.
"This is a big win," the coach continued. "It takes away a lot of pressure and puts it on the other teams. We may have an advantage because the Knights hadn't found their game shape early, while we were still on the adrenaline of Game 7 in Baie-Comeau. We took advantage, but we'll take the next two days to restore our energies."
In Engish, the London Free Press's Pyette penned a second recap (which includes an 18-image photo gallery)...
The Foreurs won the Quebec league title in Game 7 Tuesday night in Baie-Comeau and arrived by plane back home at 3 a.m. They had to return to the airport at 11:30 in the morning to fly to London.
But the puckstopper woke up in a hurry.
The Foreurs still played with the desperation of a team that knew the value of a first-game win. The Knights surrendered the first goal in their opening Cup game for the third straight year. This was their first loss in four Cups and first at home after a perfect 4-0 tournament in 2005 here.
The Foreurs, though, were road warriors in their playoffs. They won the final game of all four of their series in an enemy rink. They weren’t fazed by the atmosphere.
“There were 10,000 people at the (Halifax Metro Centre) for Game 7, and we won,” Val d’Or coach Mario Durocher said. “Baie-Comeau is a smaller rink and it’s more noisy than anywhere in Canada. Some of the media checked the decibels and it was higher than the Bell Centre — and it’s only 3,000 people. It was crazy. Our guys went through those things.”
Durocher went through this tournament 12 years ago in Guelph as bench boss with the Victoriaville Tigres. His team started 0-2, won their last-gasp round-robin game, a tiebreaker and a semifinal before losing in the final to Kootenay. No one wants to go through the wringer like that.
“You go get to the third game and the last five minutes, the pressure was on us to win,” Durocher said. “But you win that first game, you put the pressure on the other teams. We look at it as a Game 7. We’ve played those and we spent a lot of energy during the playoffs preparing to make it like a Game 7.”
The London Free Press's Morris Dalla Costa penned a "Spirit of the Thing" article..
What the Foreurs bring to this Memorial Cup was highlighted before the first period against the Knights was completed.
It is Anthony Mantha.
Danger lurks in either relying on or mistakenly believing that one player can mean the success or failure of any team game.
But when Mantha threw his big frame into the Knights zone muscling past a defenceman and swinging the puck into the net past Knights’ goalie Anthony Stolarz, he put his stamp on the tournament. It was his 82nd goal in 82 games. Later in the period he wired a shot off the post.
The Foreurs move the puck, find the open player and create space but it’s Mantha who can strike with the suddenness of a mamba.
With some big help from Bibeau, the Toronto Maple Leafs pick whose 51 saves were the most in a Memorial Cup game since 2008, the famished five got through another 56 seconds of game action, icing the puck twice. Bibeau scooped up a shot to force a faceoff with exactly 60 seconds left to let Val-d'Or get a change after what worked out to almost a 100-second shift.
"Obviously our legs were burning a little bit, but no more than you could take," said Graves, a New York Rangers fourth-round pick whom Val-d'Or acquired at Christmastime from Charlottetown when it decided to fortify its defence and goaltending in a bid for a Memorial Cup run. "Playing tired is nothing new for us. We're used to it. So we were right to have not called timeout there. He [Durocher] saved it in case we needed it later."
Mantha added that the Foreurs are well-drilled in these run-out-the-clock situations. They faced their share during successive seven-game marathons in the final two stages of the President's Cup playoffs, where they won Game 7 on the road against both Halifax and Baie-Comeau.
"With not changing after the two icings, we're used to that in the Q," said Mantha, who got the only goal with 3:40 left in the first period after stealing the puck inside his own blueline and working a give-and-go with Henley. "We know the tricks you can use to rest. We're in great shape right now so we get to used it.
You take your time to come back for the faceoff — five seconds, 10 seconds can make the difference. You get a little rest when the puck is going down for the icing."
The end might not have pretty, but it epitomized how Val-d'Or has rolled with the punches while making its way to playing in mid-May. Bibeau being required to make 20 first-period saves, as he did Friday, is hardly novel.
"We're used to getting outshot in the first, that's kind of how it's been all year," Graves said. "With Bibs, that's how he's been all year."
And two of Yahoo Sports Cam Charron's "3 Stars" were obiovus picks:
No. 1 Star - Antoine Bibeau, Val-d'Or Foreurs
Et la première étoile… da first star… the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Antoine Bibeau got a good preview of what he can expect if he ever makes the NHL, mainly, facing over 50 shots on a weeknight game in Southern Ontario. Ho hum. Bibeau, the QMJHL playoffs MVP, continued his dominant spring and earned a 51-save shutout in the tournament opener against the London Knights, the second highest scoring team in the Ontario Hockey League.
Bibeau, though, impressed in his first start in the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Val-d'Or were the tired team going into the first game of the tournament, and it showed. The Foreurs were out-shot 20-9 in the first period and 33-14 through two, but you couldn't get a handful of rice past Bibeau. He parried several scoring opportunities on odd-man rushes during the first period, and stood tall against Bo Horvat on a penalty shot in the third, which preserved the Val-d'Or 1-0 lead.
What struck me was how calm Bibeau looked throughout. He had to make some athletic saves in the first period, but as the minutes and shots faced increased, Bibeau showed no sign of fatigue. His last difficult save, gloving down a Nikita Zadorov shot through a screen late in the third, was made without flinching.
No. 2 Star - Anthony Mantha, Val-d'Or Foreurs
Le deuxième étoile, da second star… the Foreurs basically dressed two players for Game 1, Bibeau and Detroit Red Wings first rounder Anthony Mantha. Mantha scored his 82nd goal of the season (counting the regular season and playoffs) in his 82nd game, continuing an impressive goal-a-game rate. Late in the first period, Mantha broke the scoreless tie by intercepting a pass in his defensive zone, and finishing off a setup from captain Samuel Henry at the other end of the ice.
In the early going, London took it to the Foreurs, out-shooting and out-chancing the Q champs decisively, but Val-d'Or held their own with Number 8 on the ice. Moments after his goal, Mantha rung a shot off the post. While Bibeau was the big story, Mantha was the only shooter who managed to beat Anthony Stolarz at the other end. Stolarz was no slouch, stopping 27 of 28 shots in the opener.
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