The Grand Rapids Griffins attempted to stave off elimination from the Calder Cup playoffs as they faced the Manitoba Moose on Thursday evening in Game 4 of the teams’ 5-game first-round series.
Manitoba led 2 games to 1 going into the evening’s festivities, and was going for a series-clinching 3rd win; Grand Rapids’ hopes of repeating as Calder Cup champs was on the ropes, and the Griffins had to respond with sharper, smarter, more physically efficient hockey against a Moose team that got the Griffins’ “goad” in Wednesday’s 6-3 loss.
On Thursday night, Grand Rapids responded in a massive manner, winning a tightly-contested battle 3-0, thus tying the series at 2 games apiece. The winner-take-all Game 5 will be played on Monday at Van Andel Arena.
Matt Ford, Ben Street and Brian Lashoff (empty net) scored the Griffins’ goals, and Jared Coreau pitched a 25-save shutout.
Pre-game warm-ups: Grand Rapids coach Todd Nelson wasn’t going to reveal his starter until pre-game warm-ups, so Jared Coreau skated out first, and that was that.
Grand Rapids also received a big return in penalty-killing forward Colin Campbell, and as the undermanned Griffins’ forward corps required an 11-and-7 set-up, Vili Saarijarvi drew in as the Griffins’ seventh defenseman.
Captain Matt Ford ran the warm-ups as the players skated in on Coreau for single warm-up shots, outlet-regroup-and-rush drills with full lines, and single-shot snipes from a crescent’s worth of shooters selected by Mike Borkowski.
Filip Hronek was the last player off the ice for Grand Rapids, and a 20-minute break separated the end of warm-up and puck drop at 7:09 PM.
1st period: Colin Campbell, Turner Elson and Matt Ford started opposite Cormier and Lemieux, with Brian Lashoff and Dylan McIlrath starting on defense, and Jared Coreau did indeed start opposite Eric Comrie.
Two octopi hit the ice at Van Andel arena prior to puck drop, and the half-full building (and 7 Wings executives on the West Side of the rink) prepared to take in a potential elimination game.
Simpler and smarter hockey met Moose forechecking in a hurry, but Dylan McIlrath managed to get the first shot on Eric Comrie before Brendan Lemieux skated the other way and put a puck off Coreau’s glove. Coreau juggled the puck and caught it for a second time.
Matt Puempel, Eric Tangradi and Ben Street took to the ice and skated the puck into Manitoba territory, where Joe Hicketts and Dan Renouf helped keep the cycle going, and a short shift was had;
Colin Campbell, Zach Nastasiuk and Corey Elkins followed, with Filip Hronek and Robbie Russo joining the fray, and Dominik Shine hopped over the boards for Campbell, and laid out a heavy hit on a Moose defenseman.
Luke Esposito, Evgeny Svechnikov and a double-shifting Eric Tangradi skated the final shift of the four-line rotation, and Tangradi got popped in the face…
But Dylan McIlrath headed to the penalty box for cross-checking at 2:24 of the 1st period.
Colin Campbell and Turner Elson did a nice job of generating a shot on Comrie right off the hop; Manitoba had a difficult time attacking the Griffins’ zone, and Campbell’s presence made a world of difference.
Matt Ford and Corey Elkins worked the second PK unit with Hicketts and Russo, and they mashed and ground their way to a good clear.
Lashoff and Renouf were the other defensive pair, and they did a good job of keeping the Moose to the perimeter for the vast majority of the successful PK.
Street, Puempel and Tangradi headed out for the post-PK shift, and they generated a decent forecheck, an icing call against the Moose, and they did surrender a 1-on-1 rush in which Nic Petan nearly undressed Hronek, who got caught up in a spin-o-rama play.
The Moose were still picking off Griffins passes throughout the neutral zone, and as Vili Saarijarvi worked with Dylan McIlrath, the Griffins had a somewhat difficult time sustaining their forecheck when they did manage to enter the Moose zone.
Saarijarvi looked ready to plug in, able to lay out a hit here and there and steer Moose players wide of the net…
And Jared Coreau got a little lucky as he looked behind him as Francis Beauvillier slid his way through the Griffins’ defense and popped a hard shot off Coreau, high…and back into Coreau’s body.
Some 7 minutes into the 1st period, Grand Rapids was trailing 4-1 in shots…
But at 7:01, Mike Sgarbossa sat for holding, and the Griffins’ PP got to work.
Hronek, Puempel, Street, Ford and Tangradi were unable to generate possession off the first faceoff, and when they pushed the puck back into Moose territory, Manitoba cleared the puck with ease.
Hronek tried to penetrate the zone 1-on-4, and he did so, but his teammates couldn’t keep up, so Grand Rapids changed personnel.
Saarijarvi, Hicketts, Esposito, Russo and Svechnikov hammered bodies into the Moose zone, but even on uneven terms, with 3 D on the ice, a wide shot was all the second unit could generate.
I liked what I was seeing from Saarijarvi and Hicketts. Small of stature but not small of strength, especially in Hicketts’ case (at least by AHL standards).
Campbell got double-shifted a bit with Elson and Ford, and the Griffins’ sparkplug helped generate a shot that caromed off the side of the net.
Halfway through the 1st, the Griffins still trailed in shots 4-1, and an icing call against yielded a stupid little exchange where a Moose player was able to hold and then kick away Hicketts’ stick without incident.
Hicketts got back on the next rush to stop a potential goal from being scored.
For lack of a better term, the Griffins could keep up with the Moose’s physicality from time to time, but they were chasing the game.
There were some persistent ice issues at the top of Coreau’s crease, too, and the refs and linesmen had to work on Coreau’s “horseshoe” every time the play stopped in Grand Rapids territory.
Shine, Elkins and Nastasiuk were a particularly effective fourth line because the trio hit hard and didn’t give too much of a shit where the puck was, and that aggravated the hell out of the Moose.
Esposito, Puempel and Svechnikov were less so; Svechnikov was downright disappointing, to be honest, because he looked like he didn’t have any gas in the tank.
Coreau got into some trouble for standing up to Chase De Leo when De Leo tried to skate through Coreau to the puck, and I was really surprised when a penalty wasn’t called…
And yes, Coreau got an interference penalty at 12:57, served by Hronek.
It could be argued that the Griffins were better on the PK than they were at even strength, because they didn’t have to worry about their confidence or the lack thereof–they just had to play simple and clear their zone, and that was working just fine.
The Moose were so preoccupied with getting physical and setting up Brendan Lemieux for either a back-door goal or a crease goal that they really limited their effectiveness, and Lemieux got worked over–hard–by Dylan McIlrath.
Regrettably, Grand Rapids got a little carried away with the physical play, and at 15:13, Filip Hronek sat as the Designated Sitter again–this time for a too-many men call.
In a game where the first goal felt all-important, Grand Rapids was stacking the deck against itself.
Eventually, the Moose were going to string the Griffins out and put a puck in the back of the net.
Coreau was up to the challenge for the first half of the PK, and again, simpler proved easier for the Griffins, who were able to focus on clearing the puck instead of matching the Moose’s confidence.
Coreau provided the goaltending they needed, but the shots he was seeing were Comrie-esque–into the chest protector–for the most part.
Smart sticks helped Coreau not have to corral too many rebounds or screened shots, and while Manitoba had a 7-2 shot advantage, the Griffins were hangin’ in.
The Moose were starting to get to Hronek as the 1st period wound down, and Grand Rapids received a pleasant surprise as Svechnikov and JC Lipon had to sit in the penalty box (not the same box) at the same time, starting at 18:39, for roughing.
Grand Rapids did its best to crash the net with Tangradi, Street, Hicketts and Saarijarvi on the ice, and the defensive pair did a fantastic job of stifling a Moose rush in which Manitoba had a 2-on-1 that Saarijarvi’s speed was able to even up…
And in the Moose’s end, a Luke Esposito shot nearly found Matt Puempel, who was tied up as the puck rolled behind Comrie and slinked back out between his legs.
First period thoughts: It was a little strange to hear Brian Lashoff suggest that the Griffins did a better job of staying out of the box with 3 penalty-kills, but a team lacking offensive confidence was able to stick to the fundamentals of strong defensive hockey, and despite an 8-3 shot deficit, Grand Rapids at least staved off the reaper for a while.
2nd period: The Griffins and Moose started the 2nd period with 39 seconds of 4-on-4 time.
As per usual, Tangradi, Street, Russo and Hronek started opposite Cormier and Lemieux, and Russo played a little “pick play” offense in order to pave a trail for Tangradi to utilize…
Manitoba raced the other way, and Stoykewych got a good shot off on Coreau and a good shove or two in on Tangradi for being shoved into the net behind the Griffins’ goaltender.
Svechnikov rejoined the fray soon after, and he jabbed and poked at the puck a bit before going off…
To their credit, the Griffins’ backchecking forwards were doing an excellent job of getting their sticks in the way of Moose shooters’ shots, helping Coreau out a great deal on the defensive side of things.
Offensively, the Griffins were still a work in progress.
Svechnikov, Esposito and Shine were able to get a good cycle going, and when Svechnikov went off, Nastasiuk made a beeline for Comrie’s net. Saarijarvi and Lashoff did a fair job of steering Moose players wide of Coreau at the other end of the ice, too.
Hronek was still a little TOO feisty, looking to pick off Moose players with hits instead of getting back in time to prevent odd-man situations, and he was close to costing his team a goal. His offensive talent is immense, but for some reason, the Moose own Hronek’s goat.
His name is Bob, Bob the Goat, and he’s a handsome goat. Jaunty, some would say.
Again, Grand Rapids’ backchecking forwards and defenders did a great job of steering Moose away from the Griffins’ net, minimizing the quality of the Moose’s shots.
Dylan McIlrath made sure to stir some shit up when he was on the ice, too. If he was somehow to gain another step, he’d be a hell of an NHL defender.
Joe Hicketts took a nasty spill behind the Griffins’ goal, lost his stick, and the puck went into the Griffins’ goal, but an apparent goal at 4:56 was waived off because C.J. Suess batted the puck behind Coreau with his glove.
The Griffins dodged a bullet there.
Hicketts popped up off the skates-into-the-boards collision, but Manitoba attacked balls to the wall hard, and Grand Rapids’ answer was to launch Ben Street 1-on-2.
Things were starting to legitimately degenerate physically some 5:34 into the 2nd, though. The scrums during and after whistles were nasty, and players had to be both separated and escorted to their respective benches after jawing at each other.
Saarijarvi showed that he’s got a fairly hard shot off a slap shot play with Matt Ford…
And the Griffins’ lines became a BLENDTEC commercial as coach Nelson understandably threw his personnel into a blender looking for a goal.
Ford, Svechnikov and Esposito worked a shift together;
Nastasiuk, Shine and, ultimately, Elkins had a good shift together, disrupting the Moose offense…
Nastasiuk took out a Moose defender, who had to get some help going to the bench, and at 7:52, the shots were 12-9 Manitoba.
Ford, Elson and Campbell then took a shift together, with Renouf and Hicketts, and Campbell had to be separated from that C.J. Suess fellow, who I’m guessing was not brought into the game based on his charm or wit.
Tangradi, Puempel and Street then had a good, hard forechecking shift together, working with Hronek and Russo, and the forwards utilized their defense like few lines had, affording Hronek a scoring chance.
McIlrath and Lashoff of all people were getting a little less ice time, but the pair returned to the ice and blocked a couple of Moose shots as Manitoba got too comfortable in the Griffins’ zone.
Svechnikov must be hurt. His situational awareness just isn’t at a normal level.
A fairly enthusiastic, “Let’s Go Griffins” chant broke out 11:29 into the 2nd, and Coreau made a solid stop on the 12th Moose shot (to 10 for Grand Rapids).
“First goal wins: a theme.”
12:04 into the 2nd, as Tangradi, Street and Puempel jabbed at Comrie, more players had to be separated to assuage shenanigans, and the get-up-and-go exited the game.
Manitoba knew it just had to nurse the tie long enough to get an ugly goal.
Grand Rapids knew it had to get a goal by any means necessary, and as an undermanned team…
Stupid things happen, and they bite you in the ass. Brian Lashoff got tagged for cross-checking at 12:46, and Grand Rapids went to the PK.
Coreau made a good stop in some traffic, but McIlrath lost his stick, and the Moose worked the 5-on-3 very well, though McIlrath blocked a shot with his bare knee…
Colin Campbell did a great job of forcing Comrie to eat the puck away from play, too, and when Brendan Lemieux performed a fly-by, Campbell gave Lemieux a well-timed, legal pop.
The rink seemed to hold its breath during the latter stages of the PK, and Coreau had to be sharp as Lashoff exited the box, fighting off a Sutter shot. A scrum ensued, but nothing would come of it.
Off a hand pass, a Moose player nearly had Hronek following him into the bench, and the Moose bench jawed at Hronek as the teams drew in at the Griffins’ blueline, just over 15 minutes into the 2nd.
Nastasiuk and Shine were a real wrecking crew out there with Elkins, and that was fun to watch…
Street nearly connected with Tangradi for a goal, but his shot was stifled by Moose defenders’ sticks at 16:05…
And things got real quiet and real loud again as the Griffins earned a couple of close calls toward the positive.
Things got really sloppy 18 minutes into the period, and Grand Rapids narrowly averted disaster as Hicketts and Russo got cute in their own end.
Russo cruises up ice 2-on-3, and he finds Matt Ford cheating behind the Moose’s coverage on the right wing. Ford. TOP SHELF. 1-0 Griffins at 18:25.
Russo made a lovely play to hang onto the puck, and Ford snuck wide right away from the Moose’s center drive coverage, affording him a top shelf shot.
With a raucous arena in front of them, the Griffins nearly gave up a 3-on-2 again, Lashoff hammered a puck through center and Eric Tangradi got tripped sans call, Tangradi tagged up, and BEN STREET HAMMERED A SHOT GLOVE SIDE LOW on COMRIE to make it 2-0 at 19:40! Puempel got the assist as he set up Street’s rush.
Suddenly, Grand Rapids was up 2-0, and as the period’s time expired, the rink exhaled.
2nd period thoughts: The Grand Rapids Griffins nearly shot themselves in the foot so many times that it was relief more than anything when they scored their first goal. Ford gave the Griffins relief; a minute and 15 seconds later, Street gave them swagger.
I really felt that the Griffins were playing rope-a-dope hockey, but they chose to step off the ropes and take some swings, and for the first time in the series, Eric Comrie looked human.
At the end of the 2nd, the teams were tied at 17-17 in shots.
3rd period: The teams hit the ice exactly two hours after opening faceoff, at 9:09 PM, and for the Griffins, another game was a period’s worth of work away; for the Moose, three goals scored likely meant eliminating the Griffins.
Ford, Elson and Campbell started up front, with Lashoff and McGrath on defense, and Elson got all but hog-tied on the opening draw, but he emerged unscathed.
I’m not saying that Comrie knocked the net off behind him when things got tough, because I don’t have a replay save the big video screen in the rink, but the timing of the Moose’s goal going off its pegs was…curious.
Russo and Hronek came out and worked a one-timer that went wide, surrendered a rush against, and afforded Puepel, Tangradi and Street some zone time via a heavy Russo slapper from the point.
Coreau made his first hard stop with 18:41 remaining in the 3rd, and he got bailed out by his defense on the second exchange; Puempel chipped and chased for the sake of Shine, Nastasiuk and Elkins, and Saarijarvi and Lashoff unintentionally iced the puck…
But a fine block by Elkins negated the Moose’s best scoring chance, and the Griffins ensured that it was the Moose’s only scoring chance on the exchange.
Grand Rapids was doing a little bit of trapping and a little bit of tryingto shut the game down, and that is dangerous only up 2-0, with 3:30 of period “chopped down”…
So the Griffins at least eased their collective foot onto the gas pedal through successive rushes that resulted in shots on Comrie or near misses.
Lashoff and McGrath did a fine job as the Griffins’ shut-down pair, and Ford, Campbell and Elson saw their fair share of ice time.
As I said last night, the Griffins play a somewhat simpler style than the Red Wings do, and they employ much more chip-and-chase hockey, but at the AHL level, simpler is generally better.
An alert Matt Puempel almost generated a goal via a negated icing call pounced upon by Puempel…
And some 5:38 into the 3rd, McGrath absolutely laid out Patrice Cormier, who curled up in a heap before he got his breath back in the Moose zone.
Time began to tick away against the Moose and toward the Griffins’ favor, but Manitoba was rather subtly spending a little more time in the Griffins’ zone here, a little more time without the puck there, a jab deep, a cycle here, a grind and giveaway there…
So Robbie Russo tried to feed Matt Puempel in front of the Moose net, and Puempel was pulled down, sans call.
Saarijarvi still got a fairly regular shift, usually playing with Lashoff, and he was able to both generate a shot chance and keep in the puck a couple of times, using his excellent vision to maximize the ice available to him.
With 10:08 remaining, shots were tied 21-21, and Grand Rapids led 2-0.
Tick tick tick, down to 9-and-a-half minutes, down to 9, Grand Rapids making safe, smart plays to rim pucks around the boards and out…
Nic Petan gets hit at center ice, so Matt Ford is smashed from behind by Sgarbossa…
Campbell picks off a pass and Tangradi blasts a shot wide, affording the Moose a scrum in front of Coreau, who makes an alert leg save and gets a good clearing play by Hronek…
Under seven minutes remain as Comrie has to juggle a Ben Street shot, and Street is mugged by Beauvillier, McIlrath LITERALLY holds a Moose player at the end of a long arm’s reach, and the refs barely have control of a game with 7:40 remaining in regulation.
Street and Beauvillier were called for 4 minutes apiece, double-minors for roughing, and Beauvillier got a 10-minute misconduct at 12:20.
So that’s how you get control of it. Take two guys, throw one of ’em out.
That hurts the Moose more than the Griffins. Beauvillier is a strong player.
Svechnikov, Puempel and Esposito got a somewhat rare shift and perked up quite a bit, working with Hicketts and McIlrath to cycle and spin, but their Puempel’s shot was deflected out of play, and 6:13 remained on the clock.
Manitoba bit down hard and hit the afterburners as time began to get away from them, and Grand Rapids did get into some trouble chasing pucks and chasing Moose instead of possessing the puck and grinding it out in the hard areas of the ice.
Five, four, three…
Elson nearly shoveled a Moose defender and the puck through Comrie…
An octopus hits the ice at 16:24, during an ice crew timeout, and the fans roar, all 7,357 of ’em.
Nic Petan, to his credit, raced up ice and flipped a sneaky shot near Coreau and off a Griffins defender, and the Moose called timeout with 3:10 remaining.
Choosing to pull Eric Comrie a little early.
Six-on-five, with Ford, Elson, McGrath, Lashoff and Campbell on ice for Grand Rapids, the Moose hammered some pucks on Coreau…
But instead, Brian Lashoff scored an end-to-end empty-netter at 17:04, making it 3-0 Grand Rapids.
The Moose pulled Comrie again with about 2:30 remaining, and the Moose menaced the Griffins’ defensive zone, but Coreau was sharp and Russo and Renouf got some free pops on Lemieux, who doffed gloves early.
Lit’s, “My Own Worst Enemy” played as Lemieux was escorted off the ice. Appropriate for once.
The Moose kept Comrie on the bench, and Shine, Elkins, Nastasiuk, Hicketts and McGrath kept the Moose entertained the old-fashioned way–they checked the snot out of them.
Shots were 25-24 Moose.