The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/28/14 at 10:58 AM ET
Amongst the prospect stuff that transpired between Stomach Virus, Commence! and today:
On Friday, in Major Junior hockey, Tyler Bertuzzi was held off the scoresheet, but his Guelph Storm defeated Erie 5-0 and advanced to the OHL Championship in 5 games. Bertuzzi (8 goals, 6 assists and 14 points in 13 playoff games played) will battle the North Bay Battalion for the OHL title starting on Thursday, May 1st;
Also on Friday, in the WHL, Michell Wheaton and Marek Tvrdon's Kelowna Rockets dropped a 7-3 decision to the Portland Winterhawks, and they were eliminated by the Portland Winterhawks in 5 games. Portland will battle the Edmonton Oil Kings for the WHL championship, and Wheaton, a 6'5" defenseman, registered 5 assists in 14 playoff games played, and Marek Tvrdon registered 5 goals, 8 assists and 13 points in 14 playoff games played.
Both Wheaton and Tvrdon should join the Griffins' ranks in short order.
On Saturday, in the QMJHL, Anthony Mantha scored two goals, but his Val-d'Or Foreurs dropped their 3rd straight decision to the Halifax Mooseheads, losing 4-3 in OT, and Halifax can take the series tonight.
Mantha's posted 17 goals, 7 assists and 24 points in 15 playoff games played, but the Foreurs are getting ran over by the QMJHL's defending champions.
In the AHL, prior to Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Xavier Ouellet being sent down to Grand Rapids, the Griffins took the first two games of their first-round series against the Abbotsford Heat, and the Griffins can wrap up the best-of-5 series on Wednesday in Grand Rapids.
The defending Calder Cup champions never played overtime during their 2013 playoff run, but they more than made up for it during Friday’s record-setting playoff opener in Abbotsford, as the Grand Rapids Griffins rode a historic 55-save performance by Petr Mrazek to a 2-1 double overtime win against the Heat.
Ryan Sproul ended the marathon at 19:26 of the fifth period when his long shot from the right boards deflected past Abbotsford netminder and fellow AHL All-Rookie Team member Joni Ortio, ending the third-longest game in franchise history and giving the Griffins the upper hand in their best-of-five conference quarterfinal series.
Grand Rapids, which owns an all-time playoff series record of 8-2 when winning Game 1, will look to sweep the B.C. portion of this series on Saturday when the Heat host Game 2 in a 10 p.m. EDT start at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre. Game 3 is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Van Andel Arena.
Mrazek’s 55 stops were the most ever for a Griffins goalie, eclipsing 54-save efforts by both Mike Fountain and Pokey Reddick in playoff games versus Orlando back in the team’s IHL days. His teammate on the AHL Second All-Star Team, defenseman Adam Almquist, was much less fortunate on this night, though, as he suffered an apparent lower body injury early in the opening period when he was leveled from behind in the right corner by an unpenalized Max Reinhart long after the whistle had blown on an offside play. Almquist eventually was assisted off the ice and did not return to the game.
The Heat struck soon after at the 11:44 mark. Mrazek, making his 25th straight playoff start dating to the beginning of the 2013 playoffs, made a pair of terrific point-blank saves before Brett Olson found a rebound on the left side and quickly popped the puck into a wide-open net.
That goal held up until the latter half of the third period, as Grand Rapids withstood Abbotsford’s 15-4 shot advantage during the middle frame to keep its deficit at a single goal.
Two of the newest Griffins teamed up to produce the tying goal with 7:23 left in regulation. Mattias Backman took a slick centering pass from Andreas Athanasiou in the high slot and hesitated with a toe drag before ripping a shot into the left corner of the net.
Grand Rapids, which had seen 30 consecutive postseason games – including its entire championship run – decided in regulation time, proceeded to overtime for the first time in the playoffs since a 4-3 loss to Hamilton in Game 4 of the North Division Semifinals on April 22, 2009.
The Griffins managed to survive the first overtime despite being outshot 13-5, capping off a scoreless 60-minute span in which the Heat enjoyed an incredible but fruitless 35-12 shot advantage.
Grand Rapids rebounded in the second overtime, building a 13-8 shot cushion that culminated in Sproul’s game-winner. With an elapsed time of 99:26, the game was one second longer than the Griffins’ first-ever playoff overtime game (April 21, 1997) and shorter than only a pair of triple-overtime contests.
Ortio’s 39 saves earned him second star honors. The Heat went 0-for-6 on the power play while the Griffins were scoreless in four opportunities.
Notes: The Griffins set a franchise playoff record with their sixth consecutive road victory, dating to Game 4 of the 2013 Western Conference Finals in Oklahoma City…The end time of 2:01 a.m. EDT was the latest ever for a Grand Rapids game…All time during the playoffs, the Griffins improved to 4-0 in games decided in double overtime and 6-1 in road games that extend past regulation.
Three Stars: 1. GR Mrazek (W, 55 saves); 2. ABB Ortio (L, 39 saves); 3. GR Sproul (game-winning goal)
And the Canadian Press posted a recap with quotes:
Sproul scored the winner with just 33.4 seconds to go in the second overtime period on Friday in Game 1 of their American Hockey League playoff series. After the Griffins stole the puck in the Heat zone, the puck came around to Sproul at the point and his wrist shot found its way through a maze of bodies.
"I was assuming it was going to the third overtime," said Sproul, the Detroit Red Wings 2011 second-round pick. "I just threw the puck on net and getting ready to go for a change."
The play began with a Heat player bobbling a puck along the boards.
"I came off the bench and the puck just came around to me," said Griffins rookie winger Zach Nastasiuk. "I gave it up to Paetsch and he gave it to Sproul and Sproul put it on net, a good play. When I saw it go in there was a lot of relief and on the bench too. But it was a good goal."
Mattias Backman, playing just his third game in North America, tied the game in the third period for the Griffins. Petr Mrazek stopped 55 shots in the win for Grand Rapids, who killed six penalties in the game, including a five-minute major late in the second period. Their fifth-ranked penalty kill limited Abbotsford's fourth-ranked power play's opportunities, including a penalty to Jordin Tootoo with just three minutes to play in the third.
"It was very back-and-forth," said Sproul. "Obviously this is going to be a good series, and we knew that coming in. It's going to be a battle every game."
The Griffins bench had a brief moment of anxiety late in the first overtime frame. Mrazek rushed way out of his net to chip a puck away from Sven Baertschi. The two collided and it took a great defensive block by Nick Jensen to stop Brett Olson from burying the puck into the empty net. Mrazek was tended to by the trainer but remained in the game.
"He's a huge part of the team obviously," said Sproul. "Just by watching that game you can tell. When a guy goes down like that, you've got to worry about it, but he was all good and kind of brushed it off. He didn't seem too worried about it."
No news as to what happend to Adam Almquist, however, and Almquist was at least injured enough that he had to leave the game, and didn't play in Game 2...
Which was less of a squeaker. The Griffins took Game 2 by a 7-2 tally, and the Griffins' website recaps Saturday's game as well:
The Grand Rapids Griffins scored six unanswered goals to rally from an early deficit and claim a 7-2 win over the Abbotsford Heat on Saturday in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre.
Andrej Nestrasil, Teemu Pulkkinen and Ryan Sproul each registered three points as the Griffins enjoyed one of the most dominant road performances in their playoff history. Their 46 shots set a franchise record for a road playoff game (45, 4/28/06 at Toronto), while their 17 shots allowed were one more than their postseason road mark.
Now holding a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, the Griffins will have as many as three chances to close it out on home ice, beginning on Wednesday when they’ll host the Heat in a 7 p.m. start at Van Andel Arena.
The first 17 minutes of a wide-open first period featured more goals than last night’s double-overtime marathon, as the Heat twice took leads only to see the Griffins quickly answer.
Emile Poirier opened the scoring at 7:40 by putting a juicy rebound past Petr Mrazek from the left side, before Trevor Parkes, making his Calder Cup playoff debut, jammed home a nifty drop pass by Mattias Janmark at the top of the crease at 10:13.
The Heat used a fortunate bounce to go back on top during a power play at the 15:32 mark, as Max Reinhart’s centering feed from the right of the net caromed off the skate of Brennan Evans in the slot and past Mrazek. Undaunted, Grand Rapids responded only 35 seconds later when Sproul’s blast from the top of the left circle glanced off Nestrasil before falling across the line.
Just when it looked like the dust had settled before the intermission’s horn, Cory Emmerton’s great individual effort resulted in a late shorthanded goal and a 3-2 Griffins lead through 20 minutes. Emmerton stole the puck in the neutral zone, kept a step on a defender as he bore in on Joni Ortio and chipped the puck over the netminder while falling to the ice with just 36 seconds left on the clock.
Grand Rapids’ 21-7 shot advantage during the first frame set a franchise playoff record for most shots in a road period (20, 4/24/06 at Toronto, 1st) and tied the record for shots in any period (21, 4/27/07 vs. Manitoba, 3rd).
British Columbia native Jeff Hoggan celebrated his homecoming by pushing the Griffins’ lead to 4-2 early in the second period, snapping a shot over Ortio’s glove off a feed from Pulkkinen at 2:02.
Nestrasil’s second goal of the game at 11:19, from a sharp angle at the bottom of the left circle, marked the fourth unanswered tally for the visitors and the end of the night for Ortio, who was replaced by rookie Doug Carr.
Andreas Athanasiou was awarded a penalty shot at the 14:18 mark when his breakaway on Carr was impeded by Kane Lafranchise and Markus Granlund, but he could not get a shot off on his attempt and the Griffins skated to the locker room with a 5-2 lead and a 35-11 cushion in shots.
Sproul, the hero of Friday’s double-overtime win, scored the Griffins’ first power play goal of the postseason when his shot from the point slipped beneath Carr’s arm 6:42 into the final period, and Pulkkinen cashed in on another opportunity courtesy of his patented one-timer from atop the left circle with 7:51 remaining.
Mrazek, making his 26th consecutive playoff start for the Griffins, finished with 15 saves on the night. Ortio sustained the loss by allowing five goals on 30 shots, while Carr ceded two goals on 16 shots in relief.
Notes: The Griffins extended a franchise playoff record with their seventh consecutive road victory, dating to Game 4 of the 2013 Western Conference Finals in Oklahoma City…This is the sixth best-of-five series in Griffins playoff history and the third in which they’ve held a 2-0 lead. They defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in four games during the 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals and lost the final three games to Orlando in their first-ever playoff appearance in the 1997 IHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Three Stars: 1. GR Nestrasil (two goals, assist); 2. GR Sproul (power play goal, two assists); 3. GR Pulkkinen (power play goal, two assists)
The Canadian Press did provide a with-quotes recap, however...
Andrej Nestrasil's three-point night helped Grand Rapids to a 7-2 win over the Abbotsford Heat and a 2-0 lead in its best-of-five first-round series. The third-year pro scored his first two career AHL playoff goals and added an assist in the blowout victory.
"He's been good," said Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan. "He was in Toledo (ECHL) last year but he's a skilled player. When we lose guys like (Tomas Tatar) and (Tomas) Jurco, guys who go up to the Red Wings, we need somebody to fill that role and he's done a fantastic job for us."
The Griffins now head back home in hopes of a sweep after taking both games at the Abbotsford Centre. The Griffins won 2-1 on Friday in double overtime.
"Yesterday was the first game of the playoffs, so everyone was kind of nervous," said Nestrasil. "I felt that sometimes we were trying to make plays, even if they weren't there. Today we started a little more simple and it came out of that. We didn't let them shoot. They scored two first-period goals, five shots on net, so we're going to try to play better defensively, because when you play well defensively you get the offensive chances after."
Ryan Sproul, the Game 1 overtime hero, and Teemu Pulkkinen each had a goal and two assists for Grand Rapids while Trevor Parkes, Cody Emmerton and Hoggan also scored for the visitors, whose parent club Detroit was eliminated from the NHL playoffs and is expected to send some bodies back for Game 3 on Wednesday.
"We've got some talented young guys back there," said Hoggan of rookie defencemen like Sproul. "This is the time when you want to see what they're all about. Playoff hockey is the toughest hockey. For them to step up, it's going to be huge for us to go on and go far. We know they're capable and they're doing it at crunch time."
And for what it's worth, Mattias Janmark spoke with Marie Hallman, stating that...
- His playoff appearance with the Griffins is something of a "test run" in which he'll learn about the North American style of play;
- As he hasn't been signed to an entry-level contract by the Wings as of yet, he does hope to impress the Wings' brass;
- And if he doesn't make the jump to North America, he'd like to play in the SHL next season. AIK Stockholm was relegated to the Allsvenskan, so there are rampant rumors that Janmark and a good quarter of AIK Stockholm's roster will sign with Lulea.
Update: We All Bleed Red posted a clip of Max Reinhart taking out Almquist:
Update #2: From Fox 17's Steve Amorose:
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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.