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Griffins fall; Crunch force a Game 6

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Tatar scored his league-high 14th goal of the playoffs during a second-period power play in Game 5 on Saturday. (Photo by Mark Newman/Grand Rapids Griffins)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Behind a 40-save performance by Cedrick Desjardins on Saturday, the Syracuse Crunch guaranteed that the 2013 Calder Cup champion will be determined on their home ice.

The Grand Rapids Griffins dominated much of the game – and certainly the shots, to the tune of 42-22 – but were never able to take the lead on the scoreboard, losing Game 5 of the finals by a 5-2 score at Van Andel Arena.

Despite missing out on two chances to clinch the Calder Cup before sellout crowds, the Griffins will still take a 3-2 series lead back to the Onondaga County War Memorial for Game 6 on Tuesday at 7 p.m. That June 18 game will mark the latest ever in the 77-year history of the American Hockey League.

The Crunch took advantage of a Griffins miscue to go on top 8:39 into the opening period. A Nathan Paetsch pass from behind his own net was batted down and intercepted out front by Ondrej Palat, who quickly slipped a shot past Petr Mrazek from the right side.

Syracuse made it 2-0 with a power play goal at the 16:09 mark, as Tyler Johnson threaded a perfect pass through the slot to a crashing Brett Connolly for an easy redirection. But the Griffins answered on Triston Grant’s second goal of the playoffs with 2:22 remaining, as he whipped a rebound of Landon Ferraro’s shot through Desjardins from the left hashmarks.

Tomas Tatar scored his league-high 14th goal of the playoffs during a power play 5:36 into the second following a retaliatory roughing penalty on Palat, who had rushed to the defense of Vladislav Namestnikov after Brennan Evans freight-trained him along the boards at center ice. A Crunch turnover in the neutral zone became a 3-on-1 for the Griffins, and Tatar potted a return feed from Gustav Nyquist on the doorstep to even the score at two.

The scenario marked just the second time in 17 playoff games for the Crunch that they squandered a lead, the first happening on another Tatar goal that knotted the score at one in Wednesday’s Game 3 win by Grand Rapids.

But the Crunch responded with their own power play goal – their second of the night – at 11:59, as Richard Panik waited patiently with the puck along the edge of the right circle before sending a shot inside the near post.

The Griffins outshot Syracuse 33-14 through the first 40 minutes and 20-5 during the second period alone, as Grand Rapids fell one shy of its playoff record for shots in a period and recorded the most shots allowed by the Crunch in any period this season.

Any momentum the Griffins had, though, was halted when Syracuse scored just 36 seconds into the third to push its advantage to 4-2. Mrazek stopped an initial attempt by Palat but slid too far wide of his left post, enabling Johnson to pop the puck into the vacated cage.

Mrazek, who made 17 saves on the night, denied a breakaway attempt by Johnson with six minutes left to keep the Griffins’ hopes alive, but after he was pulled early for an extra attacker, Dan Sexton scored into an empty net with 2:49 remaining to seal it.

GAME NOTES: The sellout crowd of 10,834 was the Griffins’ second straight and brought their three-game attendance during the Calder Cup finals to 31,770, or an average of 10,590 (97.7% of capacity). Grand Rapids’ final playoff attendance of 72,360 (over 13 games) set a franchise record, and its 5,566 average will finish second in the postseason to only Hershey, which averaged 7,559 for its two home playoff games. … In its history, Grand Rapids has won five of the six previous best-of-seven series in which it held a 3-2 lead, including its last two rounds against Oklahoma City and Toronto.

THREE STARS: 1. Cedrick Desjardins, SYR (W, 40 saves); 2. SYR Johnson (goal, assist); 3. Tomas Tatar, GRG (power play goal).

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