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Red Wings prospect news; Mantha, Bertuzzi stake out Conference Final leads; Griffins’ spot in flux

The Detroit Red Wings' prospects had (and/or are having) a good night, at least for the most part.

In playoff hockey, in the QMJHL, round 1 of the much-ballyhooed showdown of Jonathan Drouin and Anthony Mantha went to the challenger. Mantha scored a goal, added an assist and finished at +3 as the Val-d'Or Foreurs defeated the Halifax Mooseheads 5-2, taking the first game of the QMJHL conference final.

Mantha now has 11 goals, 6 assists and 17 points in 11 playoff games played.

In playoff hockey, in the OHL, Tyler Bertuzzi had 2 assists as his Guelph Storm defeated the Erie Otters 7-2, taking a 2-games-to-none lead in the OHL's Western Conference Final.

Bertuzzi's posted 7 goals, 6 assists and 13 points in 11 playoff games played;

In playoff hockey, in the WHL, I would actually sit and wait for the score to update if I wasn't trying to cover the Wings-Bruins series, but as of the halfway mark of the game, Mitchell Wheaton and Marek Tvrdon's Kelowna Rockets trail the Portland Winterhawks 3-2 in Game 2 of their WHL Western Conference Final (and Kelowna leads 1 game to zip);

Edit/update: Neither Wheaton nor Tvrdon registered a point, but Kelowna won 5-4 and has a 2-games-to-none lead now;

And in regular season play, in the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins made things "interesting" by dropping a 4-2 decision to the Lake Erie Monsters on Friday evening. The Griffins will conclude their home-and-home series with Lake Erie tomorrow, and as the Griffins website's recap notes, that game will probably decide the AHL's Midwest Division title:

A controversial late goal by Lake Erie kept Grand Rapids’ celebration on ice for another night, as the Monsters took a 4-2 decision over the Griffins on Friday in front of the eighth sellout crowd of the season at Van Andel Arena.

Sprung from the penalty box with 3:17 left in the third, David van der Gulik made contact with Nathan Paetsch at the right point in the Griffins’ zone, sending Paetsch to the ice to force a turnover and spark an odd-man rush the other way. Andrew Agozzino quickly picked up the orphaned puck and sent it up to van der Gulik, who fed Colin Smith for the game-winner while the Griffins’ defense was still in disarray. Matthew Pufahl’s empty-netter, the first goal of his pro career, then sealed the result with 58 seconds left.

Toronto’s loss to Utica tonight means that the Griffins are destined for either the No. 2 or No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. But with Chicago’s 5-3 win over Rockford, the Wolves stayed alive in their battle with the Griffins for the Midwest Division title and that second seed, which will ultimately face the seventh-seeded Rochester Americans in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Griffins’ magic number for clinching a second-straight Midwest Division crown remains at two points, heading into the final day of the AHL’s regular season on Saturday. A Grand Rapids win at Lake Erie would do the job, as would either a Chicago regulation loss against Milwaukee or overtime/shootout losses by both the Griffins and Wolves.

The Griffins (46-23-2-4) enjoyed a dominating 10-1 shot advantage in the scoreless opening period, not yielding a Monsters shot until the final minute of play. It almost marked just the second time in its history that Grand Rapids didn’t allow a shot on goal during a 20-minute period, nearly matching the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss to Manitoba on March 3, 1998.

Despite the tilted ice in the early going, it was Lake Erie that lit the scoreboard first with just 4:22 remaining in the second frame, as Agozzino’s shot from the right circle pinballed behind Petr Mrazek.

The Monsters pushed their advantage to 2-0 less than three minutes into the third when J.T. Wyman jammed home a centering pass at the top of the crease at 2:21. But the Griffins finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:04 mark when Andrej Nestrasil slapped a perfect drop pass by Landon Ferraro past Sami Aittokallio from the left faceoff dot, trimming the deficit back to one.

Exactly 2:05 later, Teemu Pulkkinen tied matters with his team-leading 31st goal of the season, winding up in the right circle and blistering a shot over the left shoulder of the helpless Lake Erie netminder. But the Griffins were ultimately unable to prevent the Monsters from pulling the upset, as Lake Erie (31-33-1-10) won for just the third time in its last 12 games.

Three players made their Grand Rapids and AHL debuts tonight, as the overhauled Griffins iced a lineup that included only nine players who participated in their season opener. Andreas Athanasiou played his first pro game and earned an assist on Nestrasil’s goal, and Mattias Backman and Mattias Janmark logged their first North American contests.

Mrazek made 20 saves in defeat while Aittokallio finished with 25 stops.

Notes: The Griffins welcomed a capacity crowd of 10,834 for the fourth time in their last six games, finishing the season with an average attendance of 8,220 that ranks second in the AHL and stands as their largest attendance since the 1999-00 season. Grand Rapids has realized attendance increases for four straight seasons and seven of the last eight years.

Three Stars: 1. LE Agozzino (goal, assist); 2. LE Aittokallio (W, 25 saves); 3. GR Pulkkinen (goal)

The Griffins also posted a Flickr photo gallery, and the Grand Rapids Press's Jeff Chaney filed a recap as well:

"We would have liked to win tonight, for sure,” Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill said. “It would have been good to win for the fans in the last regular season home game. But If we end up clinching (the Midwest title), we've done that through the course of the season. I don't think we've backed into it. It started in game one.”

Chicago will host Milwaukee Saturday. If the squads remain tied, the Griffins hold the first tiebreaker in regulation or overtime wins at 46-44.

Grand Rapids probably would have clinched the Midwest earlier in the month if it wasn't for the lack of offensive consistency – a problem that came up again Friday. Since beating Iowa 6-1 on April 2, the Griffins haven't scored more than two goals in a game.

“I think we started pretty good, it was like the game we have to play,” Grand Rapids right wing Teemu Pulkkinen said. “Then that second period wasn't very good. And the third (period), that isn't the way we want to play.”

Grand Rapids came out and took control in the first period, outshooting the Monsters 10-1. The Griffins couldn't carry the offensive attack into the second period and Lake Erie went up 1-0 just under five minutes to play in the period.

“We want to win hockey games, for sure,” Blashill said. “I thought there were times we executed tonight, and there were times we didn't execute. We are just going to have to execute better.”

Update: Here's the Griffins' YouTube highlight clip:

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Comments

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Excited to finally see Janmark, Backman and Athanasiou. It’s good they’ll get a chance to play in the playoffs. Might even see Mantha, too, which would be awesome.

For the foreseeable future, it seems like Grand Rapids, despite purging so many good players to Detroit this year, will keep re-tooling and have a potent lineup this year’s playoffs and next season. I’m really pumped to see the next generation of Griffins carry the torch. I expect some adjustment time for the aforementioned four players, but I am excited to see these guys do what Jurco, Sheahan, Tatar, and others did in “figuring it out” over time. The Wings like cerebral players - you see guys who are great and they just plateau and never achieve their full potential. Then you have guys like Nyquist, Tatar, Jurco, etc. who have skills but they also have a psyche that enables or requires them to get better and better. When they struggled or needed to adjust, they just kept getting better.

I saw that from Mantha this year. I saw that from Athanasiou this year. It’ll be exciting to see that happen next year with these guys, Janmark, Backman, Sproul, Oullet, Pulkkinen…what will the Wings’ roster look like in two years?

Posted by VitoLambruski on 04/19/14 at 10:54 AM ET

SYF's avatar

Sproul, Oullet,

Posted by VitoLambruski on 04/19/14 at 11:54 AM ET

There’s almost no going around mentioning one of those two guys without the other.  Like Lidstrom and Murphy or Abbott and Costello or Hall and Oates or Ren and Stimpy or Tracy and Hepburn.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 04/19/14 at 11:12 AM ET

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I’ve inadvertently neglected to mention Marchenko as well. He’s a big piece as well. There are potentially four very good defensemen in Grand Rapids, not including Almqvist. Holland has to spin some of these guys into more potent prospects or NHL players. There’s not room on the Wings’ roster for four or five guys.

This is a good problem.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 04/19/14 at 11:46 AM 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.