It hasn't been a pretty series so far between the Griffins and Marlies. The Marlies have a 2-0 series lead an the Griffins sit on the brink of elimination as they head to Grand Rapids to finish off the series and see who advances. Both of these games left me frustrated, angry, and confused. Here's how we lost 2 games to the Marlies.
Game 1: Griffins 4 Marlies 7 (Marlies lead the series 1-0)
From the Griffins game recap, here's how Grand Rapids fell 7-4 to the Marlies in game 1
The Marlies needed only 26 seconds and a fortunate bounce to get on the scoreboard first. Off a faceoff win in the Griffins' zone, T.J. Brennan launched a slap shot from the right point that deflected off the stick of Tomas Nosek in the slot and sailed over Tom McCollum's glove.
Andreas Athanasiou almost tied it at the 7:30 mark, taking a pass at center ice, bursting through two defenders and speeding in alone on Christopher Gibson, who denied the rookie's wrister with a right pad save.
After killing off a too-many-men penalty, the Griffins once again nearly scored with Athanasiou in the box for a faceoff violation, when Zach Nastasiuk's backhand from close quarters rang off the pipe. The Marlies eventually grabbed a 2-0 lead just two seconds after that penalty expired, as Greg McKegg pounded home a pass from Connor Brown with 7:05 left in the frame.
Awarded 39 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play late in the period, Grand Rapids tallied its first goal of the postseason shortly after its advantage had shrunk to one man, when Athanasiou poked a rebound past Gibson at the 17:04 mark.
It was the Griffins' turn to strike early once the second period commenced. Pulkkinen, the AHL's goal scoring champ who was assigned by the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, scored on his own rebound from the slot at the 40-second mark to knot the score at 2-2.
Gibson thwarted Athanasiou's opportunity for a shorthanded scoring chance eight minutes into the period by beating him in a race to an errant outlet pass, but the Marlies would still surrender the Griffins' third unanswered tally at 10:12. Louis-Marc Aubry took a pass from Marek Tvrdon while skating backward just inside the left circle and quickly fired a shot that snuck inside the far post of the unsuspecting netminder.
But the Marlies would take a 4-3 lead into the final 20 minutes thanks to a pair of goals in the last 4:29 of the period. Matt Rupert made the Griffins pay for a turnover deep in their zone by scoring on a redirection from the goal mouth to forge the game's second tie, before Byron Froese chopped a backhand past McCollum from the slot with just four ticks showing on the clock.
Brendan Leipsic's one-timer from the right faceoff dot 5:51 into the third gave Toronto its second two-goal lead of the afternoon, and Jack Rodewald notched the home squad's fourth straight goal at 11:19 from the bottom of the left circle to make it a 6-3 contest.
Pulkkinen added his second goal during a power play with 5:09 remaining, rushing down the left side to pop Anthony Mantha'sfeed into a yawning net, but Josh Leivo scored into an empty cage at 18:03 for his fourth point of the game.
Grand Rapids had lost only two previous games in its playoff history when scoring four goals, but the Griffins were hamstrung by an uncharacteristic six minor penalties, several turnovers that ended up in their net, and a 35-28 disadvantage in shots.
McCollum turned aside 28 of 34, while Gibson authored 24 saves and a victory in his AHL postseason debut.
Game 2: Griffins 2 Marlies 5 (Marlies lead the series 2-0)
Game 2 Box Score
Game 2 Griffins Recap
Game 2 Highlights
In the team meeting prior to game 2, Jeff Blashill had plenty of instruction for his team. The forwards weren't good enough in game 1, the defense wasn't good enough, and Tom McCollum wasn't good enough. Blashill focused on team speed, execution, transition, and being more disciplined and not making it easy for the referees to put them in the box. Be where you're supposed to be, give your teammates options, and be relentless. Blashill also chose to start Jared Coreau in game 2, a decision I think he should have made in game 1 even though the loss wasn't all Thomas McCollum's fault.
The team took to heart what their coach said and came out flying in the 1st period. It took only 42 seconds for the Griffins to strike fist when Teemu Pulkkinen scored his 3rd goal of the series. Then just 5 minutes later, Andy Miele put the Griffins up 2-0 on the powerplay and this game was all Griffins. The Griffins had all the pressure and offensive zone time for the first 15 minutes of the period as the had great speed, pressure, and precision. Despite the game still being young, the Marlies started losing control, and took an early frustration penalty. Things were going great for the Griffins until late in the 1st period Louis-Marc Aubry took a tripping penalty, the Griffins got pinned in their own zone, and the Marlies got themselves on the scoreboard.
Considering how dominant the Griffins were for most of the 1st period, it was pretty deflating for the Marlies to tie the game up just 2:35 into the 2nd period when Matt Frattin grabbed a hold of Brian Lashoff, Lash went down and Frattin skated in on Coreau and scored. The Griffins were on their heels, their passes were going to no one, pucks were taking unlucky bounces off their sticks, blocked shots were going right onto Marlies sticks, and nothing was going right for the Griffins. Teemu Pulkkinen took a bad hooking penalty which only added to the Marlies pressure. The Griffins spent large chunks of the 2nd period hemed in their own zone and unable to get anything good going. Even clearing attempts that would usually go all the way down the ice only hit Marlies stick to be held in the zone. At the end of 40 minutes the game was still tied 2-2 but the Marlies had momentum.
The Griffins came out better in the 3rd period but just couldn't score a goal. They were without Tomas Nosek for a chunk of the period after he took what looked like a crosscheck to the chest, or some sort of hit right off a faceoff. He dropped to the ice and was having trouble even crawling to the bench. It seemed like the Griffins finally had their chance to make the Marlies pay when just 7 minutes in, Viktor Loov was given a 5 minute major and a match penalty for a check to the head of Zach Nastasiuk. Loov obliterated Nasty when he blindsided him in the head, Zach's helmet went flying and he was crumpled down on the ice for what seemed like an eternity. Zach was eventually helped off the ice by the Griffins trainer and Xavier Ouellet and he was in considerable pain. He didn't return to the game and we don't have any news yet if he's ok. Here's a gif of the hit. The Griffins did everything but score on their 5 minute powerplay, despite having a full 2 minutes of 5on3 after Connor Brown put the puck over the glass and got a delay of game penalty. The Griffins were buzzing, it was a shooting gallery, Andreas Athanasiou hit a post, Martin Frk just missed the puck on a great scoring chance, everything was happening except the puck going into the net. The Marlies fed off their huge penalty kill, the Griffins took a hooking penalty, the Marlies capitalized and went up 3-2 and it hurt right where it counts. With 2:02 to go in the 3rd, Coreau went to the bench for an extra skater but the Marlies scored on the empty net. Off the next faceoff Blashill again pulled Coreau to try and get one for the Griffins but the Marlies scored their 2nd empty netter of the game and the game was done. The Griffins barely tested Marlies goalie Christopher Gibson through 40 minutes, and with a .893 SV%, he hasn't been stellar when he has been tested.
The Griffins started this game out so strong and looked like themselves for the first 15 minutes of the 1st period, but it was all heartbreak after that. The final games will all be at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids and the Griffins will have to win all 3 remaining games to advance to the 2nd round. They absolutely can win this series, but not if they play like they have in the first 2 games. It's looked like they aren't firing on all cylinders and they just look off. The usual tape to tape, crisp, precision passing hasn't been there, instead it's looked at times like they have puck repellent on their sticks and don't know where their teammates are. It's been an incredibly frustrating 2 games so far, and the Marlies gooning it up and getting away with too much simply adds to the frustration.
The Griffins will hopefully play 3 straight elimination games in Grand Rapids and earn the right to move on to the next round.
Game 3 will be Wednesday night at Van Andel at 7 pm
Game 4, if we get it, will be Saturday night at Van Andel at 7 pm
Game 5, if we get it, will be Sunday night at Van Andel at 5 pm