The Grand Rapids Griffins attempted to advance to the second round of the playoffs by capturing a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Manitoba Moose on Monday night.
Grand Rapids could not overcome the losses of Eric Tangradi, Matt Lorito, Dominic Turgeon and Axel Holmstrom up front, but the Griffins’ struggles on defense did them in over the course of a 5-1 loss to the Moose on Monday night, ending the Griffins’ season.
During warm-ups: Jared Coreau led the Griffins out for warm-ups, and the Griffins tweaked their lineup in more ways than one. Dylan Sadowy would draw into the lineup with Eric Tangradi suspended, and Grand Rapids went with 12 forwards and 6 defensemen instead of their usual 11-and-7 formation, drawing in Mike Borkowski in addition to Sadowy.
1st Period: The Griffins’ “third line” of Evgeny Svechnikov, Turner Elson and Matthew Ford started the game up front, with #1 d-pair Brian Lashoff and Dylan McIlrath starting on defense. Coreau would battle Eric Comrie in goal.
The Moose won the initial faceoff and immediately slotted the puck for a shot attempt that was blocked by McIlrath, and we were underway, with the Griffins chipping and chasing their way into an accidental icing call at 21 seconds of the first period.
Grand Rapids won their faceoff and bodies poured over the boards as the Griffins attained the offensive blueline, with the Griffins going offside and changing lines twice before Zach Nastasiuk, Corey Elkins and Dominik Shine took over at forward.
McIlrath and Lashoff iced the puck, so the Griffins looked a little jittery to start.
Elkins lost a defensive zone draw and Grand Rapids gave up 2 shots just before the game was a minute old, and the Moose set up and loosely cycled the puck before the Griffins were able to clear and bring out Matt Puempel, who got the Griffins’ first shot on Eric Comrie at 1:36.
Puempel, Ben Street and Colin Campbell hopped over the boards with Robbie Russo and Filip Hronek on defense, so Puempel got the promotion to “first line” winger…
And Grand Rapids gave up the first goal in quick succession.
Filip Hronek made a goof, leaving Robbie Russo to face a 2-on-1, and a bad back-check by Hronek and bad situational awareness by Hronek yielded a 2-on-1 goal against as Patrice Cormier stuffed home a pass from Buddy Robinson at 1:49.
Manitoba led 1-0 early.
Puempel, Street and Campbell remained on the ice, but Joe Hicketts replaced Hronek on the point, and Grand Rapids ultimately brought out its fourth line of Mike Borkowski, Luke Esposito and Dylan Sadowy as Hicketts and Hronek saw some time together.
Grand Rapids did a solid-enough job of setting up Hronek for a point shot via a down-low pass from Ford, but Hronek deferred, and Svechnikov ultimately sent an un-screened, un-tipped shot through nobody, into Comrie’s Moose logo.
Grand Rapids was very specifically trying to get away from that kind of one-and-done shot-making business…
And the Griffins were cheating toward offense in terms of their forward lines, yielding several odd-man rushes for the Moose that Coreau either stopped or the Moose pumped wide of the net.
4:30 into the 1st, Grand Rapids was living on borrowed time.
Renouf was Hicketts’ usual defensive partner, and the pair inadvertently coughed up the puck to the Moose point, whose Peter Stoykeweych pumped a heavy shot into Coreau just short of the five-minute mark.
In a first-goal-wins league–and playoff hockey in every league is a first-goal-wins league–Grand Rapids was struggling to match the Moose’s intensity.
No Lorito, no Tangradi, no Turgeon, Holmstrom plausibly injured and a coach’s decision to ice a fourth line completely consisting of Toledo Walleye when the Griffins were a healthy team…
But Luke Esposito raced into the Moose zone, Dylan Sadowy got tugged and pulled, and Jan Kostalek would sit for interference at 6:09.
Grand Rapids’ first PP unit of Svechnikov, Street and Ford took to the ice with Hronek and Puempel on the point, and the gents struggled to re-enter the Moose zone when Manitoba cleared the puck, but Hronek got a good shot off, held the puck in, and Ford and Street pumped the puck back to the point…
Where Matt Puempel BLASTED a heavy shot over Comrie’s blocker, tying the game at 1-1. The goal came at 6:53 of the 1st.
Puempel scored from Street and Hronek at 6:53.
Grand Rapids had more jump on the bump-up shift, with Street, Puempel and Campbell working with Hicketts and Renouf helping the trio grind the puck out down low.
Funny what a single goal can do for your confidence…especially at home. 7:55 into the 1st, Grand Rapids led in shots 5-4 and the complexion of the game was changing rapidly, from Moose domination to a more even-keeled affair.
Regrettably, Evgeny Svechnikov got tagged for holding on the forecheck at 8:15, and Grand Rapids headed to the PK.
Evgeny’s biggest weakness is the free-hand grab, and he got caught.
Campbell, Elson, McIlrath and Lashoff worked the PK’s first unit, and they nearly gave up a goal as McIlrath splayed on the ice to block a shot wide;
Ford, Elkins, Renouf and Hicketts worked the second unit, and again, Grand Rapids nearly gave up a back-door goal before its coverage firmed up.
Renouf made a couple of alert poke-checks, as did Hicketts, affording the Griffins a “good kill.”
Svechnikov got a full shift after the PK expired, so there was no shame to be felt by #77–that, and no forward depth to afford Coach Nelson a mini-benching.
For what it’s worth, 5 members of the Red Wings’ front office watched the game from the Red Wings’ side of the rink, all standing.
The Moose were trying their usual tactic of placing a forward behind the Griffins’ coverage to set up a “home run” pass, but the Griffins were wise to the Moose’s ploy.
Grand Rapids’ third and fourth lines got a lot of ice time, too, and as per usual, Nastasiuk and Shine were just mean on the forecheck.
Grand Rapids was also getting away with the occasional big, nasty hit away from play–so the refs evened things up and let the Moose get away with some shenanigans of their own. It was a strange standard to set for a penalty and suspension-pock-marked series.
Russo and Hronek got very lucky in that Russo set up Hronek for a shot that was blocked, and as Filip skated back to defend a near-breakaway, the Moose player actually engaged Hronek, yielding a penalty to Jan Kostalek (again) for holding at 15:48.
Svechnikov, Street and Ford came out with Puempel and Hronek and won the offensive zone faceoff between the defensemen’s sticks, yielding a necessary break-in and a bad turnover by Street, who gave the puck back to Hronek, whose butt-end broke off his stick.
Hronek hopped over the boards in time for Hicketts to replace him, but the Griffins’ power play blew its first minute battling through center ice, and Russo played a very long shift as he fed Hicketts for a shot that went wide of Comrie and bounced down the ice…
On the Griffins’ return to the offensive zone, Sadowy pulled Comrie out of his net with a deke, but he couldn’t feed Esposito in the slot, at least not cleanly: Esposito was called for high-sticking the puck down, and that did it for the Griffins’ power play.
Nastasiuk, Elkins and Shine of all people got a really good cycle going in the Moose zone, and Renouf and Hicketts made it work, came back to their own zone and helped Svechnikov and company gain the offensive blueline;
The first period ended with Russo hammering a point shot into Comrie and the Griffins bringing out Street and Ford to work with Svechnikov for a final offensive zone draw, which the Moose won and cleared down the ice…
Right in time for an icing with 1.9 seconds remaining. Grand Rapids pulled Coreau for the offensive zone faceoff and put Puempel on the ice with Russo and Hronek;
Ford won the draw to Russo and Hronek nearly got the rebound–but he was interfered with by Moose defenders, and apparently legally so, because the period ended without incident.
Shots in the 1st were 11-10 Griffins.
First period thoughts: I was impressed with the way the Griffins rebounded from a bad “team” goal against and attacked the Moose with some vigor. The Moose were at least a line-and-a-half deeper than Grand Rapids up front, but the Griffins seemed to ride the energy of the crowd once things were tied up.
During the first intermission, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman spoke with Wings assistant GM Ryan Martin, and Ken Holland gave an interview as well.
2nd period: Svechnikov, Elson and Ford drew in for the opening faceoff with Lashoff and McIlrath on the blueline, and Grand Rapids won the draw, worked it D to D, chipped and chased, with Svechnikov and Elson doing the grinding before Elson pumped a wrister into Comrie. Grand Rapids kept the pace going, and Manitoba chipped, chased and changed, with Lashoff and cIlrath working to clear the zone as Svechnikov’s stick broke.
A fine pass by Lashoff sprung Puempel on the right wing side, and Puempel fired a wrist shot into Comrie;
When Comrie got mixed up with his defenseman on an uncalled icing against Grand Rapids, Street shoveled the loose puck toward the net, and Comrie scrambled back to stop the shot;
Coreau made a strong stop as Cormier and Robinson crashed the Griffins’ net, and McIlrath had the ire of the Moose up after delivering a good hack-n-whack after the whistle;
Things got pretty chippy and stayed that way as the Moose ground their way into the Griffins’ zone, and Cormier made sure to dump McIlrath on the ice with a trip…
Shine and Elkins tried to make something happen offensively, but Shine was pulled down in possession of the puck, no harm, no foul….
Hicketts set up Elson for a fine tip that went off the goalpost next to Comrie 4:15 into the 2nd;
Hronek, if you’re looking for a prospect bright spot, was in on every play, skating up and down the ice smartly, using his vision and passing abilities to set up Griffins rushes, and he came back with enough gusto to handle opponents 20-30 pounds heavier and half-a-foot taller than he is at 6′ and maybe 170.
If there is a Tyler Bertuzzi of the defensive variety, with better hands, it’s Hronek. He’s going to piss people off while head-manning the puck, and everything I’ve seen from him in limited viewing has been impressive, save a few baby step mistakes.
Elson and Svechnikov raced in on Comrie 2-on-1, but Svechnikov pumped the puck wide of the net at 6:21, and Grand Rapids had built up an 18-11 shot advantage over the first six minutes of the 2nd period.
Okay, asides aside, the game was still a next-goal-wins affair, and Grand Rapids was more prone to making Big Mistakes than the Moose, at least over the three playoff games of this series…
When Brian Lashoff lost his stick blocking a shot some 7 minutes into the 2nd period, Turner Elson gave Lashoff his stick, and Grand Rapids got the shit cycled out of them, but Coreau stood tall, and Grand Rapids managed to clear the zone and earn a faceoff.
Play really crawled to a standstill/standoff some 8 minutes into the period, with the Moose owning the territorial advantage on the undermanned Griffins.
I found it interesting that Hronek and Russo were given the green light to jump into play even while playing with Sadowy, Esposito and Borkowski. I wouldn’t give my best offensive d-pair the go-ahead to pinch when the fourth line was on the ice, but in Todd Nelson’s system, it’s GO, GO, GO.
The 10-minute mark passed with Grand Rapids up 18-12 in shots and the score tied at 1-1.
McIlrath got high-sticked by Lemieux in the Griffins’ zone, but it went undetected.
Coreau also had to make a big stop 11:10 into the 2nd, as Manitoba cycled in the Griffins’ zone.
And again, kudos to Shine, Elkins and Nastasiuk for playing as mean as their opponents.
Shine really laid out a Moose defender, but regrettably, the refs’ decision to pick someone out of the pile on an isolated basis meant that Shine would sit for boarding at 12:01.
Manitoba got a couple of really good scoring chances on the first half of their power play, but their wide shots were giving the Griffins a lifeline. Coreau’s goaltending was giving Grand Rapids another.
Beautifully, Brendan Lemieux decided to dump Joe Hicketts at the side of the Griffins’ net, and he got called for high-sticking at 13:18–whining at the referee when he realized that he’d been caught.
So the Griffins would have 43 seconds of 4-on-4 time, then a power play.
Campbell, Elson, Hicketts and Russo worked the 4-on-4, and they were relieved by Street, Hronek and Svechnikov…
But Svechnikov flubbed up an exchange, Coreau had to make a save, and Grand Rapids’ power play plodded up ice, with Hronek begging for the puck via a beaver tail slap.
Ultimately, Hronek gave up a puck to Brody Sutter trying to cheat through center ice, Coreau had to make a stop-and-hold with 17 seconds left in the power play, and the power play expired with Sadowy sending a shot through the crease but wide of Comrie.
Lemieux came out of the box and exited the ice, and with 3:43 remaining in the 2nd period, the shots had narrowed to 20-17 Griffins.
Grand Rapids really needed to stop affording the Moose momentum and score a damn go-ahead goal.
Coreau made two BIG stops when the Street line got hemmed in, and the 2nd period looked like it was going to end in a deadlock some 17:42 into the period.
Things got sloppy toward the end of the period, and I’m afraid that the Griffins may have used some of their nine lives, but Coreau was masterful on a breakaway by Beauvillier, stifling the Moose shot…
But Coreau could not stop what he couldn’t see, and the Griffins made a terrible, terrible mistake to allow Cameron Schilling to pinch from the point and tap a back-door pass past Coreau at 19:46.
Schilling made it 2-1 from Lemieux and Stoykewich.
2nd period thoughts: Grand Rapids blew an opportunity to break the game open, and a lot of back-passing and defensive breakdowns ultimately resulted in what those kinds of breakdowns result in–a puck in the back of the home team’s net.
Worse, Coreau had been very, very good, bailing out a team whose defensive mistakes got worse and worse over the course of the 2nd period.
Grand Rapids was 20 minutes away from the end of their Calder Cup run, and things had to change for the Griffins to avoid elimination.
Manitoba out-shot Grand Rapids 12-10 in the 2nd period, for a 2-period shot total of 23-20 Manitoba.
3rd period: Ford, Puempel and Svechnikov hit the ice with Russo and Hronek on defense.
Grand Rapids got hemmed in their own zone for the first half-minute of play, and Manitoba came out swinging and skating hard, but Grand Rapids responded with a solid rush by Russo…
Which was the highlight of a first 2 minutes in which the Griffins spent the majority of their puck possession time skating backwards, passing backwards, making boobles (Svechnikov was very obviously injured, because his decision-making was awful), and the Moose were afforded a significant amount of momentum.
The Griffins just looked what they were–thin up the middle nad working against an absolutely stacked team.
Grand Rapids was afforded a golden opportunity to tie the game when J.C. Lipon was called for high-sticking McIlrath at 3:25.
Grand Rapids’ power play plodded along, however, with Ford’s stick breaking, Svechnikov winding a slapper out of play and Manitoba having an easy time of clearing the puck for the first half thereof;
Svechnikov, Street, Ford, Puempel and Hronek remained on the ice after the Moose got away with delay of game (a defender put the puck out of play, but the refs didn’t catch it)…
And when the Griffins absolutely peppered Comrie over the second half of the power play, Comrie got lucky (goalpost) and got support from his defense, which was allowed to lay an absolute pounding on the Griffins’ forwards.
AHL reffing. Bad, for both sides.
Worse and worse, Robbie Russo fumbled the puck in front of the Griffins’ net, and Michael Sgarbossa was able to skate out front and shovel the puck in past Coreau at 6:39.
I think you can put a nail in Robbie Russo’s career with the Red Wings there.
The Moose were full of piss and vinegar from there on out, finding reasons to take shots at Griffins players and flashing arrogance–Comrie took a Hronek shot and skated it out to the faceoff circle once the whistle had blown, which pissed the Griffins off.
12:19 remained in the 3rd period and the shots were 26-25 Moose.
As time started to tick down toward the 10-minute mark, Grand Rapids just looked out of sorts, and Manitoba knew that it could milk the clock by keeping play going.
9:47 into the 3rd, shots stood at 27-27 and Grand Rapids was doing its best to pour it on, but the Moose’s sticks were always in the way of the most dangerous Griffins opportunities.
Hronek and Russo weren’t exactly a train wreck, but they weren’t a competent defensive pairing, either…
And the game ended for all intents and purposes when Brendan Lemieux took an error by the Griffins and stuffed it behind Coreau at 11:17. Hicketts and Renouf were on the ice, and returning Griffins scorer Buddy Robinson had the main assist.
Trailing 4-1 with just over 8 minutes remaining, the Griffins faced a Herculean task.
During the “t-shirt toss” timeout, coach Nelson brought his players together for an impromptu huddle, and Grand Rapids prepared for the all-out assault it needed to create to bring its season back from the brink.
Comrie was making the Griffins’ job very difficult because his goaltending was impeccable, but the Griffins just weren’t making his life difficult, and that was infuriating.
The fans that stayed were vocal and vociferous in their support of the home team, and for a Monday night, a crowd of 7,015 wasn’t bad at all, but elimination was an option, and some fans just didn’t want to witness that.
Brendan Lemieux played like a man on fire–as I suppose only progeny of Claude can–trying to run up the score. The Griffins didn’t have the time to smear him out, so they just doggedly attacked, attacked, and attacked some more, finding the Moose’s defense to be stiffer than Comrie’s blocker and pads.
To their credit, none of the Griffins mailed it in. They worked as hard as their bodies and brains allowed them to work trying to rally from an impossible deficit, and as the clock ticked down from 5 to 4 minutes, Ford, Street and Campbell took to the ice with Hronek and Russo and Puempel as the Griffins pulled COreau.
With 3:29 remaining, Chase De Leo put the nail in the coffin, and that was that. 5-1 Manitoba.
All that was left was the handshakes.