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Griffins in good position, expecting Barracuda's best game

Grand Rapids holds 3-1 series lead and has won six straight at Van Andel Arena

by Dana Wakiji and Art Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner /

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - The Grand Rapids Griffins have put themselves in an excellent position but they understand that doesn't guarantee anything.

With their 6-2 victory over the San Jose Barracuda Friday night at Van Andel Arena, the Griffins have a 3-1 series lead and can eliminate the Barracuda with a home win Saturday.

"Our mindset all along was to try and take care of business at home," said Eric Tangradi, who had a goal and two assists Friday. "We put together a good 40-minute effort so I think that's somewhere we can grow. They're a desperate hockey team, they're playing for their season (tonight) so we got to make sure we're ready to rock when the puck drops."

The Griffins are expecting the Barracuda to play their best game of the series tonight.

"We know how good they are," Griffins coach Todd Nelson said. "They're so dangerous. (Tonight) we have to come out and play hard and try to put doubt in their minds. But I don't think it's going to be the case at all. They're a very proud group over there, they're very good and they're very dangerous so it's going to be a battle."

Van Andel Arena has certainly been the friendly confines for the Griffins as they have won a new franchise record six straight playoff games there and are looking to extend that streak.

"We've taken a lot of pride in defending our home ice," Tangradi said. "The people that have come out here, the crowds, the energy, it's been amazing. It's very important to us to make sure that whenever the puck drops in Van Andel, we're ready to go and it's straight business."

A victory would also ensure that the Griffins avoid another trip out to the west coast and having to try to win the series out there.

Captain Nathan Paetsch, defenseman Brian Lashoff and forward Mitch Callahan were all members of the 2013 team that won the Calder Cup so they understand the situation.

"It's a good feeling but the series isn't over yet," Callahan said. "We can't come in thinking we're going to win. They're a good team and we've got to play like we played in the second half of (Friday's) game and I think we'll do all right."

Although the Griffins have some rookies in major roles, Callahan doesn't believe that he or the other leaders need to say anything to them before Game 5.

"The younger guys, they know," Callahan said. "I think they got enough experience so far this playoffs. We kind of hold the young guys accountable and they're real good players for us. I think if anything, kind of maybe experience-wise, come in and don't go out there thinking we're going to put a jersey on and win. Just go out there and play our game."

MCILRATH AN INTIMIDATING FORCE: When Detroit acquired defenseman Dylan Mcllrath as part of the Thomas Vanek deal with the Florida Panthers, he was known as a physical force with an edge to his game.

Not only has the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Mcllrath lived up to his advance billing, he has played with composure, which has led to him taking very few bad penalties.

On several occasions Nelson has stated that Mcllrath's size and physical play were the missing ingredients to his Griffins team.

"We didn't have him the whole year, but once we got him since the trade deadline our guys play a lot taller," Nelson said. "Just having his presence, he's a good guy in the locker room and he knows his role. "He's been playing some really good hockey for us and if the game does get ugly, he's there. It's nice having a guy like that in your lineup."

Talent has never been the main concern regarding Mcllrath, the Rangers' first-round pick, 10th overall, in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

He was labeled as a bit of a wild child on the ice, playing an unruly style and dropping the gloves with reckless abandon.

"It's just my game, I try and create space for other players," Mcllrath said. "They know I have their back, sometimes that just helps them relax and go play.

"I didn't fight every game. I only had one or two or three majors, but I have made my presence felt, which helps the team and helps me get into the game. That's been my style of play all along."

Mcllrath admits it took him some time to adjust his emotions with his overall game.

He is encouraged playing for the Red Wings organization, because Detroit has a history of allowing players to develop at their own pace.

"Early on I had to earn respect and I had to fight as much as I could," Mcllrath said. "I had to get my reputation out there and now being an older guy I can pick and choose when I want to step up.

"Knowing the organization from afar you look at their roster and it seems 90 percent of their guys came through their system. They take their time with guys and for me it's been a longer road than I initially thought, but coming to a great development team I am trying to pick everyone's brain and do the best I can."            

Teammate Tyler Bertuzzi describes Mcllrath's impact on the Griffins in a direct and no-frills way.

"He's an animal," Bertuzzi said. "I can't say anything else. He's been really good for us, he'll step up for us and he's a big team guy."

BLACK ACES: With the back-to-back games, the Griffins elected to work out off-ice Saturday morning, ceding the rink to the Black Aces.

The only players who skated were forwards Axel Holmstrom, Mike Borkowski and Dylan Sadowy; defensemen Filip Hronek and Conor Allen and goaltenders Cal Heeter and Eddie Pasquale.

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