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AHL Notebook: Calder Cup Final continues

Grand Rapids resumes quest for second championship, holds 2-0 lead against Syracuse in best-of-7 series

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

A last-minute win and a double-overtime victory separate the Grand Rapids Griffins from the Syracuse Crunch through the first two games of the Calder Cup Final.

Grand Rapids will take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series on the road for Game 3 on Wednesday. The American Hockey League affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings is seeking its second Calder Cup championship in five seasons. The Griffins defeated the Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in six games in 2013.

Syracuse will host Games 3-5 and is 9-0 at home in the postseason. The teams could play as many as three games in four nights.

Grand Rapids won Game 1 at home 3-2 on a power-play goal from Tomas Nosek with 13.9 seconds remaining in the game. Game 2 went to double overtime before Ben Street's second goal of the game finished a 6-5 win. Grand Rapids is also 9-0 at home in the playoffs.

"That was an unbelievable hockey game," Grand Rapids coach Todd Nelson said after Game 2. [There] was everything. Penalty shot, power-play goals, great saves on both ends.

"I'm speechless."

Though the Crunch trail 2-0, they've proven to be very stubborn. Syracuse broke four Grand Rapids leads in Game 2.

"It's good hockey," coach Benoit Groulx said. "We're disappointed but we know we have a good team. We know we can play.

"It's for us to clean up certain areas of our game. We will be fresh Wednesday and have a strong game."

One of those areas for Syracuse will be avoiding the penalty box and Grand Rapids' deadly power play. The Griffins are 4-for-11 with the man advantage in the series, three of those goals coming in Game 2. After finishing first on the power play in the regular season, Grand Rapids leads all playoff teams at 26.1 percent and has a power-play goal in 13 consecutive games.

"I think we've got to find a way to play this game at 5-on-5," Groulx said after Game 2. "Our [penalty kill] is not a concern. Their power play is a concern."

Slowing down the Grand Rapids offense is another task for Syracuse. Grand Rapids leads the AHL with 4.13 goals per game in the playoffs. Nosek has three goals in the series and forward Martin Frk had three points in Game 2 (one goal, two assists). Forward Tyler Bertuzzi has agitated Syracuse players from the first shift of the series and a relentless Grand Rapids forecheck has disrupted Syracuse breakouts.

However, the Crunch can take solace in returning to the Oncenter War Memorial Arena. Since the regular season, Syracuse has won 12 consecutive home games and has not lost in regulation at home since March 24. Syracuse has a plus-22 goal differential at home in the playoffs, outscoring opponents 42-20.

Players are striking a defiant tone despite their series predicament.

"[The mood] is really good," goaltender Mike McKenna told the Crunch website after practice Tuesday. "There is a reason these [series] are seven games. You've got to win four and we're nowhere near the end of this. We've got plenty of life left."

Though Grand Rapids is two wins away from a Calder Cup championship, closing out Syracuse on the road will be a difficult task.

"They're an extremely good hockey team," captain Nathan Paetsch said. "They come at you, they come at you, they come at you."

Said Nelson, "That's the best hockey team we've faced all year. They're very good, and they're very tenacious.

"I knew that they were a very good hockey team. I didn't know that they were that good."

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