SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Griffins are heading home to Grand Rapids with a 2-0 lead in the Calder Cup finals.
Six Griffins scored goals and Petr Mrazek made 30 saves on Sunday to give Grand Rapids a wild 6-4 victory over the Syracuse Crunch in Game 2 at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
The Griffins, who have yet to trail in a game this series, will host Games 3 and 4 at Van Andel Arena this Wednesday, June 12 and Friday, June 14. Tickets are available at griffinshockey.com. Game 5 would be in Grand Rapids on Saturday, if necessary.
For the second straight night, the Griffins tallied the game’s first goal early in the opening period. Seconds after a delayed penalty was signaled against the Crunch, Brennan Evans sent a pass out front from behind the net that Tomas Tatar smacked past Cedrick Desjardins at the 4:29 mark. Tatar’s 12th goal of the playoffs set a franchise record for a single postseason, eclipsing the 11 scored by Kevin Miller during the 2000 IHL Turner Cup playoffs.
Triston Grant made it a 2-0 game with his first goal of the playoffs at 11:31, crashing the net from the right side to bang home the rebound of a Landon Ferraro shot from the slot.
The Crunch answered less than three minutes later, as Andrej Sustr’s wrister from the point found its way through a maze of bodies and into the top of Mrazek’s net at the 14:03 mark.
Both teams had additional chances before the first 20 minutes wound down, but a Gustav Nyquist shot deflected off iron with 4:30 remaining, and Mrazek denied a point-blank chance by a wide-open Richard Panik two minutes later.
Nyquist was stopped on a partial breakaway 4:21 into the second period, but the Griffins rebuilt their two-goal cushion at 6:23. After winning a race to a loose puck in the Crunch zone, Jeff Hoggan quickly fired a chance that Desjardins saved, but Ferraro swooped in to pop the puck into the top of the net before the goalie could rise from his sprawled position.
Syracuse soon clawed back to within 3-2 with a power play goal, only to see the Griffins quickly respond with one of their own. First, Mrazek tried to cover the puck after making a save, but Panik worked it free from the netminder and slipped a backhand inside the right post at 10:06. Tomas Jurco then scored 2:03 later to put Grand Rapids up 4-2.
The Crunch’s strategy of knocking the puck from Mrazek’s grasp while covering up after a save paid dividends once again during a power play with 3:48 remaining in the frame, as Johnson knocked it free to Brett Connolly for a tap in from the right side to make it 4-3.
Then things really got interesting.
The two teams played several continuous minutes until a stoppage with one minute left, at which time the referees reviewed the video of a play from a few minutes earlier and determined that a shot by J.T. Brown somehow passed unnoticed through the net’s mesh. Awarding the goal to make it 4-4, they erroneously reset the game clock to show 3:50 – meaning that, for at least a while, Syracuse’s fourth goal (at 16:10 of the period) was scored two seconds before its third goal (at 16:12).
The Crunch barely had time to celebrate their tying marker and good fortune when the Griffins struck again, with Francis Pare scoring from the left side at 16:36 to make it a 5-4 contest. Mercifully, the 22-minute and 50-second period expired without further drama, and during the third period, the AHL adjusted the official times of the Brown and Pare goals to 18:23 and 18:49, respectively.
The Griffins’ penalty killers came up huge by killing off a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Jurco with 14:28 left in the third, and then with just over five minutes remaining, Hoggan and Jan Mursak combined to give Grand Rapids its fourth two-goal lead. Hoggan sprung Mursak for a breakaway with a beautiful pass out of the Griffins zone, enabling Mursak to patiently skate in and flip a backhand past Desjardins at 14:56.
Like in Game 1, the Crunch took a late penalty to short-circuit their comeback hopes, as Vlad Namestnikov was whistled off for roughing with four minutes left, and the clock soon ran out on Syracuse.
Each team converted twice on the power play, with Syracuse enjoying eight opportunities to the Griffins’ five.
Desjardins made 23 saves on the night.
GAME NOTES: The Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate had not lost consecutive playoff games since the 2011 East Division semis, when the Norfolk Admirals dropped the last four games of the series (April 19-23) in a 4-2 loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … The Crunch began this postseason 11-1 before this weekend’s two losses, and their core group of 10 players who won the 2012 Calder Cup as members of the Admirals were on a 21-1 playoff streak prior to the Calder Cup finals. … In its history, Grand Rapids won all three previous best-of-seven series in which it held a 2-0 lead.
THREE STARS: 1. Landon Ferraro, GRG (goal, two assists); 2. Francis Pare, GRG (power play goal); 3. Brett Connolly, SYR (power play goal, assist).