SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Grand Rapids Griffins seized home-ice advantage in the Western Conference Finals and set a franchise record for best playoff start on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Barracuda in Game 1 at the SAP Center.
The Griffins, now 8-1 during this postseason, grabbed an early 2-0 lead over the conference’s regular season champs and left the rest to Jared Coreau and their penalty killers, as Coreau made 26 stops and backstopped a unit that denied the Barracuda’s potent power play on all six of its opportunities.
Game 2 of this best-of-seven will be staged here on Sunday at 8 p.m. EDTbefore the series shifts to Van Andel Arena for as many as three contests, including Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 4 on Friday.
California native Mitch Callahan, playing his first postseason game in his home state, put the Griffins ahead 6:45 into the opening period. After winning a faceoff in the right circle, he sped down the slot and potted Eric Tangradi’s feed from that right dot into the back door.
Ben Street made it a 2-0 contest just 3:08 later after picking up a loose puck behind the net off a turnover forced by Tangradi. Street came out and jammed a shot at the right post that ramped off a defender’s stick and bounced off the mask of Troy Grosenick and into the top of the net. But the Barracuda needed only 41 seconds to answer, as Kevin Labanc picked up the puck along the wall in the right circle, darted toward the net and snuck a backhand between Coreau and the near post.
The defenses took hold at that point. In the latter reaches of a scoreless second period, the scoreboard showed an 18-9 advantage in shots for the Griffins, after which the Barracuda went on a 12-0 run, including 10-0 over the first eight minutes of the final frame. Coreau, however, was more than up to the task, stopping all 16 shots he saw over the final 20 minutes and helping extend the Griffins’ streak of successful penalty kills to 20.
Grand Rapids, meanwhile, capitalized on its fourth opportunity of the night to increase its cushion to 3-1 midway through the third. Matthew Ford scored his league-leading fourth power play goal of the postseason at the 10:58 mark, redirecting Street’s shot from the right point past Grosenick.
San Jose pulled its AHL Goaltender of the Year for most of the final four minutes in favor of an extra attacker but could not get any closer, as Grand Rapids won its third Game 1 of this postseason and second straight on the road.
Grosenick, who won both regular season meetings against the Griffins while allowing a total of just one goal, stopped 25 of 28 shots on this night.
Notes: The only other time the Griffins won Game 1 of a conference final was in 2013, when they defeated the Oklahoma City Barons and Grand Rapids’ current head coach, Todd Nelson, en route to their Calder Cup championship…Grand Rapids has never lost a best-of-seven in which it led 1-0, going 9-0 in those series.
Three Stars: 1. GR Street (goal, assist); 2. GR Tangradi (two assists); 3. GR Kyle Criscuolo