GRAND RAPIDS, Mich -- Head coach Jeff Blashill sang praises for the superior leadership his core players have provided him this season. Last night's 3-1 victory over the Toronto Marlies was a prime example of how work ethic and leadership has lifted the Grand Rapids Griffins to overcome a two-games-to-none deficit in the first round.
The story of the entire series was physicality. The Toronto Marlies are a team who aren't afraid to mix it up, and lay the body on opposing players. For the Griffins, players like Tyler Bertuzzi played a huge role with rolling up his sleeves, and getting under the Marlies' skin. On multiple occasions, I saw Bertuzzi toss himself into the mix, and piss off whoever he chose as his target for pestering. Really love watching Tyler play, he reminds me a lot of Brendan Gallagher, or Andrew Shaw. He can pester, and he can score.
Bertuzzi: "I really like playing with these guys, everyone's been real good to me, and I'm part of the family now." pic.twitter.com/0yulJtmfbC— Winging It In Motown (@wingingitmotown) May 4, 2015
The first goal of the game came from Red Wings 2010 81st overall pick Louis-Marc Aubry. A tremendous play by Alexey Marchenko to keep the puck in Toronto's zone, and throw it towards the net. Aubry finished the job with a redirection to put the Griffins up 1-0.
Blashill also sang his praises to his specialty teams, mainly the penalty kill, who held the Marlies scoreless in the final two games of the series, when the team needed it most. Both teams had chances at 5 on 3, but neither were able to connect for a power play goal.
While he was completely heckled by Griffins faithful, Toronto goalie Antoine Bibeau made some big saves and gave his team a great shot at pulling off a win. Though, one of those big saves was a bit controversial. Nathan Paetsch had a great chance on the power play, but it was ruled a save by the off-ice officiating. The AHL doesn't have overhead cameras, so I assume it's because they couldn't find anything conclusive.. But, here.. You be the judge:
(The puck is in Bibeau's glove)
The game-winning goal came from Alden Hirschfield. His goal put the Griffins up 2-1 midway through the second period. It was a strange play, Bibeau had the puck in his glove, he dropped it off for one of his defensemen to setup the breakout, and the player was unable to handle the puck, and Bibeau was caught sleeping. Hirschfield buried the puck unassisted.
For me, and a lot of folks, the highlight of the game was Andreas Athanasiou. This kid is incredible. He went coast-to-coast to put the nail in the Toronto Marlies coffin to score a thrilling goal. Check it out:
Athanasiou would earn the first star of the game, putting up a goal and an assist. He's likely one of the most dangerous players Grand Rapids has, and his speed makes him almost uncontainable.
I just kept my eyes in front of me, and saw that one of their defensemen started to cheat a little bit, so I did my best to take advantage of that.
I then asked Athanasiou if this goal was a product of his hockey instincts, in which he replied "yeah, I think a little bit." He's a smart and confident one, that Athanasiou. Really excited to see where he can take himself with the ridiculous skill-set he has.
Other notes -
- Teemu Pulkkinen had a team-leading eight shots on goal. Surprising he didn't score, but he still leads the team in goal-scoring. Six goals in five games for Pulky.
- Ken Holland, and Mike Babcock were both in attendance this evening. We were lucky to get some face-time with the both of them, and it sounds like they will be attending the home games for round two, as well as heading over to Prague for the World Championships to check out Dylan Larkin. Ken Holland says he'll be making his decision on whether he wants to go pro, or stay in the NCAA soon. I'm betting he stays with the University of Michigan, but you just never know.
- The Marlies ended the series with 98 penalty minutes, which ended up leading all teams in the playoffs. Kind of gives you a handle with the kind of hockey they play. You can definitely tell that they aren't the most disciplined of teams.
- Jeff Blashill made a comment on how he will keep all of his line-ups the same going into round two, and make adjustments as the series progresses. Sounds like Tom McCollum will remain the starter after having such a strong outing in helping his team get past the first round.
- The Griffins will now face the Rockford IceHogs in round two. Here is the schedule:
Let's Go Griffins!