SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Petr Mrazek made 28 saves and Riley Sheahan scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with eight minutes remaining as the Grand Rapids Griffins took Game 1 of the Calder Cup finals by a 3-1 count over the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
For the Crunch, it marked just their second loss in 13 games this postseason. And for their core group of 10 players who won the 2012 Calder Cup as members of the Norfolk Admirals, it was only their second defeat in their last 23 playoff contests.
Game 2 will be Sunday at 6 p.m. in Syracuse before the series shifts to Van Andel Arena on Wednesday, June 12 for the first of as many as three straight games. Tickets are available at griffinshockey.com.
After successfully killing off a too-many-men penalty in the opening minute, the Griffins began to apply pressure on the other end and broke through for the game’s first goal at 6:45. Moments after Jeff Hoggan rang a shot off the right post and then was robbed by Cedrick Desjardins on the doorstep, Chad Billins fired a shot from the point that was put home by Mitch Callahan.
The Griffins carried the play for the majority of the period, almost taking a 2-0 lead midway through when a puck bounced past Landon Ferraro’s stick as he was staring at an open net. But the fast-paced period passed without any more scoring and finished with the Crunch holding a slim 11-10 shot margin.
In the early minutes of the second period, Tyler Johnson missed his own try at a wide-open cage thanks to a tie-up in the crease by Adam Almquist, and Mrazek bailed out Danny DeKeyser by making a spectacular save on Johnson after he picked off DeKeyser’s pass from behind the net.
The chances continued for each team. Just over eight minutes in, Jan Mursak chased down a loose puck in the Syracuse zone and blasted a shot off the crossbar, then Mrazek made another tremendous save during a Crunch power play with eight minutes left, getting his left pad on a point-blank try by Dan Sexton.
Syracuse looked to have tied the game during its fourth power play opportunity with 1:02 remaining before intermission, but the goal by Richard Panik was immediately waved off due to Brett Connolly being in Mrazek’s crease.
Exactly 12 minutes into the third, off a turnover at the Syracuse blue line, Sheahan teed up a cannon that zipped under Desjardins’ left arm. But Grand Rapids’ two-goal advantage was pruned back to one just 1:19 later, when J.P. Cote connected on a long shot that sailed into the top of Mrazek’s net.
A slashing penalty to Panik with 2:01 remaining dimmed the Crunch’s chances of a comeback, and Gustav Nyquist scored into an empty net during that power play with 15 seconds remaining to seal the win.
The Griffins converted one of four power plays on the night while denying the Crunch on each of their five tries.
Desjardins finished with 18 saves.
GAME NOTES: The win was the first for the Griffins in a league final since June 3, 2000, when they posted a 6-4 win at Chicago in Game 5 of the IHL Turner Cup finals. … In its history, Grand Rapids won all previous six best-of-seven series in which it won Game 1, including each of its last two playoff rounds…The sellout crowd of 6,333 was the largest in the Crunch’s postseason history.
THREE STARS: 1. Petr Mrazek, GRG (W, 28 saves); 2. Riley Sheahan, GRG (GWG); 3. Ondrej Palat, SYR.