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Game Recap: Griffins 1 Comets 2

Calder Cup Playoffs – Western Conference Finals – Game 1 – Utica Leads Series, 1-0


May 24, 2015

UTICA, N.Y. – The Utica Comets rode two early goals to a 2-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Sunday at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals.

Following a week-long layoff after dispatching Rockford in the conference semis, the Griffins will get right back at it on Monday when the Comets host Game 2 at 7 p.m. The series will then shift to Van Andel Arena for the first of as many as three straight games, beginning with Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Friday.

Comets winger Nicklas Jensen – not to be confused with Griffins defenseman Nick Jensen – gave the home squad the lead just 35 seconds into the contest, tucking a sharp-angle shot into the near corner of Tom McCollum’s cage from the right goal line. Brandon DeFazio made it a 2-0 game when his wrist shot from the left circle snuck past McCollum at 11:06.

The Griffins answered with 3:57 left in the period, only four seconds into a power play, as Mark Zengerle sliced across the goal mouth to deflect Nathan Paetsch’s feed behind Jacob Markstrom. McCollum then ensured that the deficit would remain one goal at intermission by denying DeFazio’s wide-open one-timer with just 1.4 ticks showing on the clock.

Those goals were all that either netminder allowed on the night, as Markstrom turned aside 15 shots over the final two periods to finish with 25 saves, while McCollum countered with 21 over the final 40 minutes en route to a game total of 29.

As the Griffins pressed for the tying tally in the waning minutes, a boarding call on Louis-Marc Aubry with 2:56 remaining took the majority of the wind from Grand Rapids’ comeback sails.

Notes: Dylan Larkin, the Red Wings’ first-round pick and the 15th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, made his pro debut on the heels of his freshman season at the University of Michigan. He logged two shots on the night…The Griffins have dropped their road opener in all three playoff series this year…This marks just the second time in six best-of-seven series under coach Jeff Blashill that Grand Rapids dropped Game 1. The Griffins fell in their 2014 conference semifinal opener to Texas and went on to lose to the eventual Calder Cup champs in six games…All time, Grand Rapids owns a series record of 3-8 when losing Game 1 of a best-of-seven.

Three Stars: 1. UTI Markstrom (W, 25 saves); 2. UTI DeFazio (game-winning goal); 3. UTI Jensen (goal)


Box Score


The Griffins got off to a slow start, probably in large part due to having 6 days off in between the 2nd and 3rd round. But ultimately McCollum gave up 2 brutally soft goals in the 1st period to a team who relies on stellar goaltender and stifling defense to win via 1 goal games. That’s a recipe for something that tastes terrible and also burns through your counter tops and requires a hazmat suit to clean up. Jacob Markstrom is a big goalie at 6’6″ and his .932 SV% and 1.79 GAA stand as testament to just how good he is. He’s only allowed 4 goals in his last 4 games, and has only allowed more than 2 goals in 2 of his 13 playoff games. The Comets defense did a great job of blocking shots, keeping the Griffins to the outside, and stretching the Griffins out. It’s difficult to score goals when you can’t even set up in the offensive zone.

Teemu Pulkkinen usually has at least 4 shots on goal per game and he only had 1, and Utica deserves a lot of credit for checking him and getting sticks in his shooting lanes. The Griffins really didn’t have any forwards who were “themselves”, and the Comets deserve a lot of credit for that. Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Nosek were once again stars on the PK, and Athanasiou even got a chance to tie the game up shorthanded late in the game. Utica checked Tyler Bertuzzi very hard and Bertuzzi ended up taking 2 minor penalties (high sticking and slashing); he previously only had 3 minor penalties in the playoffs.

Dylan Larkin did well in his first game, he had 2 shots on goal, a great takeaway while on the backcheck, a couple nice passes, and he did a good job of sticking with the puck. He started the game centering Andreas Athanasiou and Kevin Porter, but mid way through the 2nd period he moved to wing, playing with Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Nosek. In his intermission interview, Larkin said his decision to turn pro was influenced by wanting to come get to know Jeff Blashill and show the coach how hard he works. He also said that family and his UofM teammates influenced his decision. I found it odd that he spoke about his teammates at UofM telling him he’s ready to turn pro, and that it factored into his decision. When asked if he thinks he has a chance to play for the Wings next year, he said he didn’t know right now but that tonight would be a good test to see where he fits in the organization. He specifically mentioned mass and muscle as something he has to work on this summer, and he’ll be hitting the gym with Luke Glendening once the Griffins season is over. I’ve heard from multiple sources that Glenny is a beast in the weight room, so I think it will be good for Larkin to work out with him.

The Griffins have to learn from their mistakes and make adjustments quickly because game 2 is tonight at 7. There’s no question they can beat Utica in this series, but they’re going to have to play better than they did in game 1, and rely on the sharp team play that got them this far. I don’t put a lot of stock in this game, because as I said in the series preview, every time I can remember that they’ve have 3 or more days off, they’re slow and off their game the first one back. Coach Blashill will do plenty of video review to show them what they did right, what they did wrong, and how to do better, then get back at it tonight and tie the series.

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