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Series Preview: Griffins Face Admirals In Central Division Semifinals

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Anthony Mantha and Mark Zengerle celebrate a goal against the Milwaukee Admirals on March 29, 2016
Anthony Mantha and Mark Zengerle celebrate a goal against the Milwaukee Admirals on March 29, 2016
Griffins Hockey

If you listened to this week's edition of WIIM Radio, you already know that the Griffins start their 2016 Calder Cup Playoff run tonight against the Milwaukee Admirals. If you haven't listened yet, it's not too late.

The Griffins finished off the regular season with a 5 game losing streak, which pushed them down to finishing 4th in the Central Division and solidified their matchup against the Admirals.

The first round of the AHL playoffs is a best of five game series (all remaining rounds will be the best of seven games) and the Griffins' schedule looks like this.

Game # Date Location Time Listen Watch
Game 1 Fri. April 22 Milwaukee 8 PM Eastern ESPN 96.1 FM AHL Live
Game 2 Sat. April 23 Milwaukee 8 PM Eastern ESPN 96.1 FM AHL Live
Game 3 Tue. April 26 Grand Rapids 7 PM Eastern ESPN 96.1 FM AHL Live
*Game 4 Wed. April 27 Grand Rapids 7 PM Eastern ESPN 96.1 FM AHL Live
*Game 5 Sat. April 30 Milwaukee 8 PM Eastern ESPN 96.1 FM AHL Live
* If necessary

Joakim Andersson is eligible to re-join the Griffins but will not. Being an AHL veteran complicates things because of the AHL veteran limit and quite frankly the team won't miss the services of Joakim Andersson. According to Pete Wallner, Andreas Athanasiou is eligible to be sent down to re-join the Griffins, but will not due to family matters at home. However one of the Wings diggers reported that he would be assigned to GR and join the team in a few days. You can always check out my Depth & Waivers Chart for up to date roster info and who's been called up or sent down. Xavier Ouellet was already sent back down to Grand Rapids before the Wings final playoff game, so he'll be ready to go tonight.

We're also on the lookout for both center Evgeny Svechnikov and defenseman Joe Hicketts to be assigned to Grand Rapids now that their junior teams are out of the playoffs. I don't expect either player to play, but like Vili Saarijarvi should travel, train, and work out with the Griffins. Both Svechnikov and Hicketts will be with the Griffins full time next season so this will be a good learning experience for them.

This matchup is going to be a challenging one for the Griffins, and my biggest single area of concern is special teams. Milwaukee has the 2nd best power play in the league (21.2%) and the 8th best penalty kill (84.9%) while the Griffins have the 2nd ranked power play (15.8%) and 14th ranked penalty kill (83.7&) and that's a mismatch that could prove lethal for the Griffins if they don't improve special teams and stay disciplined.

The Calder Cup quest begins tonight. Keep reading for more matchup details!

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How We Got Here: Grand Rapids clinched a 2016 Calder Cup Playoff berth on April 3, thanks to a 5-2 victory at Rochester, but much was still to be determined for playoff positioning in the Central Division over the final two weeks of the regular season. With just over a week left in the regular season, Grand Rapids climbed to second place in the division following its 4-3 home win against Chicago on April 8, but a five-game losing streak to close the campaign saw the Griffins drop to the No. 4 seed. In the penultimate game of the season, Grand Rapids came up short in a matchup at Rockford that would have locked the Griffins into third in the division and a first-round matchup against the Lake Erie Monsters. Instead, the Griffins finished fourth and will face off against the division champion Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee won its fifth division crown since joining the AHL in 2001 and its first since the 2010-11 season. When the calendar turned to March, the Admirals sat in second place in the Central Division as the top four teams were bunched together and separated by a mere two points. Aided by a 13-game point streak from March 13-April 12, Milwaukee distanced itself from the rest of the pack over the final two months, closing the regular season with a 15-5-0-1 record.

Tale of the Tape:
Here’s how the two rivals stacked up in key categories during the regular season:

Grand Rapids

Milwaukee

Overall Record

44-30-1-1, 90 pts. (4th Central, 12th AHL)

48-23-3-2, 101 pts. (1st Central, 4th AHL)

Home Record

25-12-1-0, 51 pts. (8th)

26-11-0-1, 53 pts. (6th)

Road Record

19-18-0-1, 39 pts. (19th)

22-12-3-1, 48 pts. (3rd)

Power Play

49-for-311, 15.8% (22nd)

66-for-311, 21.2% (2nd)

Penalty Killing

251-for-300, 83.7% (T13th)

236-for-278, 84.9% (T8th)

Penalty Minutes

14.42 avg. (14th)

13.75 avg. (21st)

Goals For

3.13 avg. (T4th)

2.95 avg. (T9th)

Goals Against

2.57 avg. (6th)

2.54 avg. (5th)

Shots For

33.29 avg. (2nd)

29.82 avg. (16th)

Shots Against

31.63 avg. (22nd)

28.45 avg. (7th)

Team Leaders

Games Played

Andy Miele (75)

Felix Girard (76)

Goals

Eric Tangradi (28)

Pontus Aberg (25)

Assists

Miele (44)

Taylor Aronson (36)

Points

Miele (62)

Kevin Fiala (50)

Plus/Minus

Robbie Russo (+40)

Max Reinhart (+16)

Penalty Minutes

Tyler Bertuzzi (133)

Jimmy Oligny (120)

Power Play Goals

Martin Frk (11)

Max Gortz (11)

Shorthanded Goals

Miele, Tomas Nosek, Colin Campbell (2)

Reinhart (3)

Game-Winning Goals

Tangradi (5)

Aberg (8)

Wins

Jared Coreau (29)

Juuse Saros (29)

Shutouts

Coreau (6)

Saros, Marek Mazanec (4)

Goals Against Avg.

Tom McCollum (2.42)

Saros (2.24)

Save Percentage

McCollum (0.923)

Saros (0.920)


Regular Season Series Notes: The season series between the teams was decided by one game in favor of Grand Rapids (5-3). However, the eight meetings were not that close, as all were determined by two or more goals. The closest contest score-wise ended in a 4-2 victory for Grand Rapids on Jan. 8, but it was a Cody Bass goal with 3:48 remaining that brought the Admirals to within two. The largest win for either side came in the first meeting of the season, on Nov. 27 in Milwaukee, as the Griffins blanked the Admirals 6-0 behind 22 saves from Jared Coreau. Milwaukee’s largest win came on Jan. 30, right before the all-star break, as Grand Rapids let up a season-high seven goals – including five in the second period – in a 7-3 loss. Louis-Marc Aubry scored a series-high seven points (6-1—7), as six of his 12 goals on the year came against the Admirals. Four Griffins registered five points: Anthony Mantha, Andy Miele and Eric Tangradi all tallied three goals and two assists while Mark Zengerle’s five points came via a series-high five assists. Zengerle also recorded a team-high 10 penalty minutes. Coreau was the goalie of record for all eight meetings, and showed a 1.89 GAA with a 0.932 save percentage while shutting out the Admirals twice. Tom McCollum made one relief appearance and allowed three goals in 34:27. On the Admirals’ side, Kevin Fiala (2-3—5) and Max Gortz (1-4—5) led the team in scoring against Grand Rapids. In six games, goaltender Marek Mazanec totaled a 2-4-0 record to go along with a 3.21 GAA and a 0.896 save percentage while Juuse Saros was 1-1-0 in two games and posted a 2.02 GAA and a 0.934 save percentage.

Special Teams Breakdown: Milwaukee holds the statistical edge over Grand Rapids when it comes to special teams. The Admirals ranked second in the power play, generating 66 goals on 311 opportunities (21.2%) while the Griffins placed 22nd, converting 49 of 311 man-advantages (15.8%). Milwaukee produced 29.5% (66-224) of its goals from the power play while the Griffins relied on the power play for 20.6% (49-238) of its goals. Despite Milwaukee’s upper-hand in the power play, in the eight meetings between the teams this season, the Admirals were just 3-for-33 (9.1%) on the man-advantage while the Griffins were 3-for-30 (10.0%). Milwaukee tied for eighth in the penalty kill (84.9%) while the Griffins tied for 13th (83.7%). 

2015-16 Griffins vs. Admirals:

Griffins Records: 5-3-0-0 Overall, 4-0-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 1-3-0-0 in Milwaukee
Admirals Records: 3-5-0-0 Overall, 0-4-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 3-1-0-0 in Milwaukee

Nov. 27 – Griffins 6, Admirals 0  – BMO Harris Bradley Center

In the first meeting of the season, Jared Coreau recorded his first of six shutouts on the season as Grand Rapids cruised past Milwaukee 6-0. The Griffins claimed their fifth win in a row while also snapping the division-leading Admirals’ franchise-record 10-game winning streak. Andy Miele put the Griffins on the board at the 13:31 mark and Eric Tangradi added to the lead 5:09 later as Grand Rapids led 2-0 after 20 minutes. Miele’s second goal of the night came in the second period before Grand Rapids added three insurance tallies in the third. Miele finished with three points (2-1—3).

Dec. 9 – Griffins 4, Admirals 1 – Van Andel Arena
In the first meeting between the teams at Van Andel Arena, the Griffins extended their winning streak to nine games and snapped the Admirals’ five-game road winning streak with a 4-1 victory. The score was tied through two periods before Martin Frk potted the game-winner 2:05 into the final frame. Eric Tangradi put the Griffins up two with less than two minutes remaining and then Louis-Marc Aubry’s empty-netter with 34 seconds left salted the game away. Jared Coreau stopped 23 of 24 shots as the Griffins held their opponent to a single goal for the third consecutive game and to two or fewer goals for the seventh straight outing.

Dec. 29 – Admirals 3, Griffins 0 – BMO Harris Bradley Center
The Admirals claimed their first win of the season series behind 30 saves from Marek Mazanec. Grand Rapids dropped its second straight contest after its franchise-record 15-game winning streak was halted on Dec. 27 at Lake Erie. Max Gortz broke a scoreless tie 1:43 into the second period, sending a wrister past Jared Coreau’s blocker side for a power play goal. At the 15:26 mark in the middle frame, Kevin Fiala extended Milwaukee’s lead. The Admirals added an empty net goal with 1:07 left as Coreau stopped 22 of 24 shots. 

Dec. 31 – Griffins 3, Admirals 0 – Van Andel Arena
Jared Coreau pitched a 23-save shutout before a sold-out Van Andel Arena, as the Griffins rang out 2015 with their franchise-record 11th consecutive home win, a 3-0 decision over the Central Division-leading Admirals. The Griffins, who avenged a loss in Milwaukee two days earlier by an identical 3-0 score, won for the 16th time in 18 contests, a span during which they ended both a 10-game and, now, a five-game winning streak by the Admirals. After a scoreless opening period, Eric Tangradi put the Griffins on the board in the second period before they added two more markers in the final 20 minutes.

Jan. 8 – Griffins 4, Admirals 2 – Van Andel Arena
The Griffins defeated the Milwaukee Admirals 4-2 at Van Andel Arena to extend a franchise record with their 12th consecutive home victory, but the game’s ultimate result was the least of anyone’s concerns. With 6:19 remaining in the second period, forward Alden Hirschfeld suffered a seizure on the Griffins’ bench. After being attended to by paramedics and Griffins medical and training staffs, he was transported in stable condition to a local hospital. Just 2:33 into the contest, Jeff Hoggan stole a clearing pass at the Milwaukee blue line and fed Tomas Nosek in the high slot for the first goal. Martin Frk added the second goal of the night on a power play at the 12:48 mark of the first period. Nathan Paetsch tallied the game-winning goal at the 3:49 mark of the second period and Louis-Marc Aubry tacked on the fourth goal.

Jan. 30 – Admirals 7, Griffins 3 – BMO Harris Bradley Center

The Admirals scored five second-period goals – including three in a 3:17 span – as the Griffins saw their losing streak reach five games. Louis-Marc Aubry netted a pair of goals in a middle frame that saw both sides combine for eight goals from seven different goal scorers. Jared Coreau’s night was cut short as he was replaced by Tom McCollum following a Cody Hodgson goal that gave Milwaukee a four-goal cushion 5:33 into the second period.

Feb. 17 – Griffins 4, Admirals 1 – Van Andel Arena
Anthony Mantha’s first career hat trick powered the Griffins to a 4-1 victory over the Admirals. Mantha scored in each period and added an assist to also mark his first four-point game, as the Griffins toppled a first-place team for the second straight home game. Grand Rapids jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the game was six minutes old after Mantha potted his first of the night followed by a Nathan Paetsch goal. Jared Coreau turned aside 29 of 30 shots for his 23rd win of the season.

March 29 – Admirals 4, Griffins 1 – BMO Harris Bradley Center
In the final regular season meeting between the teams at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Griffins dropped their fourth straight game, falling to the division-leading Admirals 4-1. The result also extended the Admirals’ point streak to seven games. Taylor Aronson tallied a pair of assists and Juuse Saros stopped 28-of-29 shots for the Admirals while Andy Miele netted Grand Rapids’ lone goal.

Between the Pipes: The Griffins and the Admirals have both boasted stellar goaltending play throughout the season. Tom McCollum and Jared Coreau rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in goals against average, while their counterparts, Juuse Saros and Marek Mazanec, place fourth and tied for 12th in GAA. Coreau (6) and McCollum (1) have combined for seven shutouts while Saros and Mazanec have collected eight bagels (four each). Saros and Coreau finished tied for fourth in the league with 29 wins.

Playoff Facts and Figures: Grand Rapids has won 15 of its 27 total playoff series and owns a combined 74-68 record during those games, going 36-36 on home ice and 38-32 on the road. Despite getting eliminated short of the Calder Cup Finals in each of the last two seasons, both teams the Griffins lost to went on to either win the Cup (Texas in 2014) or appear in the finals (Utica in 2015). Grand Rapids is 4-3 all-time in best-of-five series, having won its last four. Overall, the Griffins’ all-time record in Game 1 of a series is 12-15. 

Full Blast Bertuzzi: Rookie Tyler Bertuzzi will look to capture the same magic he used last season when he burst onto the scene in his playoff debut. Bertuzzi joined the Griffins for the last two regular season games of the 2014-15 season after his OHL season in Guelph came to an end. Skating in 14 postseason games, Bertuzzi accumulated 12 points (7-5—12) and led the AHL with four game-winning goals.

Time to Shine: After making his playoff debut during the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs, goaltender Tom McCollum started 15 of 16 games for the Griffins during the 2015 postseason. In 16 career games, he shows a 9-6 record and a 2.59 GAA. Goaltender Jared Coreau owns a 0-1 playoff record and a 3.10 GAA after he made his postseason debut in Game 2 of last season’s Western Conference Quarterfinals versus Toronto.