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Griffins get Utica in AHL conference finals

by Randy Cleves / Detroit Red Wings
The Griffins will face-off against the Utica Comets in Game 1 Sunday at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Lindsay A. Mogle/Utica Comets)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – After defeating the Rockford IceHogs 4-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, the second-seeded Grand Rapids Griffins will continue their quest for a second Calder Cup championship in three years by facing the West’s regular-season champion Utica Comets in the best-of-seven conference finals.

Grand Rapids, which has advanced to the conference finals for the second time in three years and the sixth time in franchise history (2013, 2006, 2003, 2001 IHL and 2000 IHL), will attempt to earn its third finals trip after winning the Calder Cup in 2013 and losing in the IHL’s Turner Cup finals in 2000.

The Griffins will travel to the Utica Memorial Auditorium this Sunday, May 24 and Monday, May 25 for Games 1 and 2 against the top-seeded Comets, who finished off Oklahoma City 4-3 thanks to a 1-0 home win in Game 7 this evening. The series will then shift to Van Andel Arena for Game 3 on Thursday, May 28, Game 4 on Friday, May 29, and (if necessary) Game 5 on Sunday, May 31.

This will mark the first Calder Cup playoff meeting between Grand Rapids and Utica, whose regular-season history consists of just two meetings earlier this year. Each team held serve on its home ice, with the Comets winning 4-2 in their inaugural clash on Jan. 14 and the Griffins answering with a 5-1 victory on Jan. 23.

This series between the Griffins and Comets presents several other story lines, including:

The Griffins are 7-1 in playoff series during their three seasons under coach Jeff Blashill, after having posted an 8-10 series record over their first 16 seasons. As such, Grand Rapids is the first AHL team to win seven playoff series during a three-year span since the Hershey Bears won back-to-back Calder Cups in 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, the Comets, in just their second season in upstate New York, did not qualify for the playoffs last year;

North Division champion Utica (47-20-7-2) edged out Midwest Division champion Grand Rapids (46-22-6-2) 103 to 100 in the Western Conference’s regular-season points race. As a result, this will mark the first meeting of the No. 1 and 2 seeds in an AHL conference final since 2012, when No. 2 Toronto upset No.1 Oklahoma City 4-1 in the West while No. 1 Norfolk defeated No. 2 St. John’s 4-0 in the East;

The Griffins will square off against the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate for the fourth time in the last 10 postseasons. All three prior clashes were against the Manitoba Moose, with Grand Rapids winning 4-3 in the 2006 North Division finals, losing 3-4 in the 2007 North Division semifinals, and losing 0-4 in the 2009 North Division finals;

This series features four of the 12 members of the AHL’s 2014-15 All-Star Teams. Griffins forwards Andy Miele and Teemu Pulkkinen were named to the First Team, while Comets defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti and goaltender Jacob Markstrom earned Second Team honors;

Utica defenseman Travis Ehrhardt appeared in 135 games for the Griffins from 2009-12, tallying 27 points (5-22—27) and 99 penalty minutes. After logging 41 games (3-4—7, 22 PIM) during his first season with the Comets, he has seen action in all 12 of their postseason contests (0-4—4, 10 PIM).

The complete schedule is as follows:

2015 Calder Cup playoffs - Western Conference finals - Best of Seven

Game 1, Sun., May 24, GRIFFINS at Utica Comets, 7 p.m.

Game 2, Mon., May 25, GRIFFINS at Utica Comets, 7 p.m.

Game 3, Thu., May 28, Utica Comets at GRIFFINS, 7 p.m.

Game 4, Fri., May 29, Utica Comets at GRIFFINS, 7 p.m.

*Game 5, Sun., May 31, Utica Comets at GRIFFINS, 5 p.m.

*Game 6, Tue., June 2, GRIFFINS at Utica Comets, 7 p.m.

*Game 7, Wed., June 3, GRIFFINS at Utica Comets, 7 p.m.

* If necessary (All times Eastern and subject to change).

All games on Newsradio WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM and AHLLive.com.

Tickets for Games 3 and 4 at Van Andel Arena are now on sale at The Zone and all Star Tickets locations, online through griffinshockey.com/buytickets, by phone through Star Tickets at 800-585-3737, or via the Griffins app for iPhone or Android. Continuing a postseason tradition, all home playoff games will feature $2 beers and $2 hot dogs for two hours after the doors open, while supplies last.

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