The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/07/13 at 10:21 AM ET
Updated 2x with interviews with Francis Pare and Gustav Nyquist at 11:55 AM: When the Grand Rapids Griffins begin their Calder Cup Final series against the Syracuse Crunch tomorrow (7 PM EDT on AHLLive.com), the Red Wings' top prospects...Won't necessarily be taking part in the equivalent of NHL playoff hockey, but battling for a championship against a Crunch roster largely comprised of last year's Calder Cup-winning Norfolk Admirals is a huge challenge.
Wings GM Ken Holland told MLive's Ansar Khan that the Wings are very happy that a line-and-defensive-pair's worth of NHL players (see: Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Brian Lashoff and Danny DeKeyser) and the team's top prospects are playing into June:
"These are great experiences,'' Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “When you're a young player nothing can be better for your development than going on a run in the AHL playoffs. It's a roller-coaster ride, physically and emotionally. This is an experience we can't replicate in development camp or training camp.''
Khan duly notes that Tomas Tatar's followed up a 49-points-in-61-games regular season campaign with 16 points over the course of 18 playoff games played, that Tomas Jurco's dazzled while piling up 13 points over the course of 18 playoff games in his first season as a pro, that Petr Mrazek's been nothing short of sensational in the Griffins' net, that Brian Lashoff's been his steady self, registering 1 point over the course of 12 games, and that Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist have played very, very well over the course of 4 games, all while playing on a reconstituted 1st line with Tatar.
Now the Wings and Griffins hope that Danny DeKeyser will be able to step into the lineup and contribute, and given that the ten Griffins players made RedWingsCentral's list of the top 25 Wings prospects--and that number increases to 11 if you add Teemu Pulkkinen's 14 playoff games played with Grand Rapids--the Wings hope that their prospects will make the sort of developmental leap that the Ottawa Senators' prospects did two years ago (see: won the Calder Cup two years ago, and now a gaggle of Binghamton Senators comprise half of the Senators' roster), with an AHL championship giving the Griffins possibly career-defining confidence, poise and playoff savvy:
“They're all playing regularly, they're all contributing,'' Holland said. “Tatar is only 22, just a kid. He's one of the leaders on that team. Jurco has come a long way. He's competing harder, he's made good strides. Andersson is taking key faceoffs. Peter Mrazek is a great story for us in goal.
“Jeff Blashill has done a fantastic job as a rookie coach.''
The Crunch is the affiliate for the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose general manager is Steve Yzerman, the long-time Red Wings captain.
Khan also provides cringe-worthy news regarding the oft-injured buy-out candidate that is Mikael Samuelsson:
Right wing Mikael Samuelsson won't need surgery for now. An MRI showed some damage to his pectoral muscle but no torn tendons.
“He'll rehab,'' Holland said. “If he doesn't progress over the next few weeks then we'll consider (surgery).''
Shifting focus right back to the Griffins, as noted yesterday evening, the Crunch have cruised to the Calder Cup Final and are rested and ready for a Grand Rapids Griffins team that's played 18 games over the course of 3 playoff rounds, as the Grand Rapids Press's Steve Kaminski notes...
Western Conference Quarterfinals
The Griffins opened the postseason by beating Houston in a best-of-five series, 3-2. The two teams split the first four games, but Grand Rapids defeated Houston 7-0 at Van Andel Arena in the decisive game on May 4 to advance. Tomas Tatar helped spark the Griffins in the series with three goals.
Game 1 – HOUSTON 3, Grand Rapids 0
Game 2 – Grand Rapids 3, HOUSTON 2
Game 3 – GRAND RAPIDS 4, Houston 2
Game 4 – Houston 4, GRAND RAPIDS 1
Game 5 – GRAND RAPIDS 7, Houston 0
Western Conference Semifinals
The Griffins, leading the best of six series 3-2, went to Toronto and won the clincher, 4-3. Grand Rapids trailed Game 6 3-1 heading into the third period, but the Griffins received unanswered goals from Jan Mursak and Tomas Tatar to tie it, then East Grand Rapids’ Luke Glendening won it with a goal at the 15:57 mark.
Game 1 – Grand Rapids 7, TORONTO 0
Game 2 – TORONTO 4, Grand Rapids 2
Game 3 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Toronto 4
Game 4 – GRAND RAPIDS 4, Toronto 1
Game 5 – Toronto 4 at GRAND RAPIDS 1
Game 6 – Grand Rapids 4, TORONTO 3
Western Conference Finals
The Griffins defeated Oklahoma City 5-4 in Game 7 to advance to the finals. Grand Rapids, trailing 4-3 in Wednesday’s finale, tied it on Jan Mursak’s, then won it on Tomas Jurco’s goal at the 13:48 mark.
Game 1 – GRAND RAPIDS 2, Oklahoma City 1
Game 2 – Oklahoma City 4, GRAND RAPIDS 2
Game 3 – OKLAHOMA CITY 4, Grand Rapids 1
Game 4 – Grand Rapids 4, OKLAHOMA CITY 0
Game 5 – Grand Rapids 3, OKLAHOMA CITY 0
Game 6 – Oklahoma City 4, GRAND RAPIDS 3
Game 7 – GRAND RAPIDS 5, Oklahoma City 4
While the Crunch, as Kaminski points out, have played in 12 games thus far...
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Syracuse swept Portland 3-0, but the series proved to be a tight one. Syracuse won the opener, as well as the finale in overtime. Syracuse also took Game 2, 4-2.
Game 1 – SYRACUSE 4, Portland 3 OT
Game 2 – SYRACUSE 4, Portland 2
Game 3 – Syracuse 4, PORTLAND 3 OT
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Syracuse ran its postseason winning streak to seven games after sweeping its second consecutive opponent. Syracuse outscored Springfield by a combined score of 18-7 in the four games.
Game 1 – Syracuse 5, SRPINGFIELD 2
Game 2 – Syracuse 5, SPRINGFIELD 3
Game 3 – SYRACUSE 3, Springfield 0
Game 4 – SYRACUSE 5, Springfield 2
Eastern Conference Finals
Syracuse dropped its the series opener to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 4-2, and that has proven to be the only postseason game the squad has lost to date. Syracuse reeled off four consecutive wins, including a pair of shutouts to advance to the finals.
Game 1 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 4, SYRACUSE 2
Game 2 – SYRACUSE 3, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 2
Game 3 – Syracuse 2, WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON 0
Game 4 – Syracuse 4, WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON 2
Game 5 – SYRACUSE 7, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 0
And, as the Syracuse Post-Standard's Linday Kramer noted, the Crunch will have enjoyed seven days of rest when the series begins on Saturday:
Syracuse has been off since beating Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday; the Griffins didn't push out Oklahoma City in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals until Wednesday.
The Crunch has breezed through the playoffs in 12 games, one shy of the minimum to this point. Grand Rapids has battled through 18.
Perhaps most importantly, Grand Rapids is barging into back-to-back games in an unfamiliar barn whose smaller rink size often vexes opposing skill teams. The Griffins haven't played here since the 2008-09 season. Before Grand Rapids has a chance to catch its breath and bearings, the Crunch has a prime opportunity to jump up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series if it sets the kind of tone it wants.
"We want to have a great start,'' Crunch forward J.T. Wyman said after practice on Thursday. "Not just Game 1 as a whole. First shift. First period. We try to set the emotional tone, the intensity tone.''
The Crunch have also displayed efficiency at both ends of the rink...
The Crunch easily paces the postseason with an average of four goals a game and is second with a goals-against of 1.92. Grand Rapids is fourth with 3.22 goals per game and third at 2.44 goals allowed.
"I do feel confident in that (his team's versatility). But that doesn't change the fact we don't want to let them dictate the pace,'' Wyman said.
"I'm not comfortable giving up a lot of goals. No coach is,'' [Crunch coach Rob] Zettler said. "But we're capable of scoring. This is going to be more of a challenge for our guys, without a doubt.''
The Crunch got some good news on Thursday when top-line forward Richard Panik returned to full practice and skated with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. But blueliner Radko Gudas remained out with an undisclosed ailment. Zettler said he remains hopeful Gudas, the team's most physical defenseman, will be ready for Saturday.
And Kramer believes that the Crunch's checking line will neutralize the Nyquist-Andersson-Tatar line:
Syracuse Crunch head coach Rob Zettler has seen a lot of good opposing first lines fly over the boards and into his team's defensive zone this season. He's not sure any of them are as dangerous as the trio Grand Rapids is bringing into the Calder Cup Finals in the person of Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar.
"These guys probably have the most skill of any of the top lines we've played so far,'' he said. "They are pretty creative.''
Sounds like a job for Mike Angelidis, J.T. Brown and J.T. Wyman. The home of the Calder Cup for the next season will likely depend upon who wins their multi-game tug-of-war.
Western Conference winner Grand Rapids takes on Eastern Conference champ Syracuse in a best-of-seven tiff starting Saturday in Syracuse. Zettler will likely have his third-line grinders trailing the Griffins' game-breakers from the moment they hit the city limits.
"We're very prepared from a knowledge and understanding standpoint,'' Wyman said after practice on Thursday. "We know what we're up against. We can't give them opportunity. We have to take away time and space and be physical with them.''
If you're interested in hearing the Syracuse Post-Standard's Brent Axe speak with Angelidis for 5 minutes, you may most certainly do so, and I don't tend to suggest how you might want to spend your money, but Van Andel Arena's only been half-full for most of the Griffins' home games...
And if you missed it, http://www.AHLLive.com is streaming the Calder Cup Final for free, and while you do have to register in the give-'em-your-name-address-email-and-phone fashion, you can leave your credit card info blank:
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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.