CEDAR PARK, Texas – Eleven months to the day that they won the first pro hockey championship in the history of Grand Rapids, the Griffins saw their quest for a second Calder Cup end with a 7-1 loss to the Texas Stars on Sunday at Cedar Park Center.
The regular-season champion Stars, who claimed the Western Conference semifinal four games to two, advance to the conference finals to face the Toronto Marlies. For the Griffins, now 2-1 in elimination games under coach Jeff Blashill, it marked their first loss in six playoff series under the AHL’s 2013-14 Coach of the Year.
The Griffins got off to a strong and necessary start by scoring just 36 seconds into the contest when Teemu Pulkkinen slammed Riley Sheahan’s feed past Cristopher Nilstorp from the right circle.
But the home team answered with a pair of goals 1:02 apart to take a 2-1 lead. Former Griffins center Chris Mueller, the overtime hero for Texas in Friday’s Game 5 in Grand Rapids, blasted a rebound inside the right post from the slot at 3:56, before Dustin Jeffrey pulled up just to the right of the goal during a 2-on-1 and stuffed the puck past Petr Mrazek.
Former Red Wings defenseman Derek Meech gave Texas a 3-1 advantage at the 10:37 mark, sending a slap shot by Mrazek’s stick from above the right circle.
Radek Faksa made it a 4-1 Stars lead 2:03 into the second period, finding the puck in a maze of skates in the high slot and putting a shot through Mrazek’s pads to end the goalie’s franchise-record playoff minutes streak at 2030:50 and herald the postseason debut of Tom McCollum between the Griffins’ pipes.
After being outshot 13-7 in the first period and 14-5 in the second, the Griffins surrendered a fifth goal to the Stars at 2:24 of the third when Faksa banged home a rebound for his second tally in just more than 20 minutes.
Brett Ritchie notched a power-play goal from the left circle at 11:53 before Jeffrey scored his second into an empty net with a 150-foot shot at 13:44, a shorthanded tally that accounted for the final margin.
Mrazek stopped 13 of 17 in the loss while McCollum turned aside 14 of 16 in relief. Nilstorp earned the win behind 23 saves.
GAME NOTES: Six goals tied the Griffins’ record for largest margin of defeat in a playoff game. Grand Rapids suffered an 8-2 loss at Chicago on April 23, 2004 in Game 4 of the West Division semifinals. … This marked the fourth straight postseason meeting in which the AHL’s regular-season champion defeated the defending Calder Cup champion. Springfield was the last Cup champion to fend off the regular-season’s best, defeating Rochester in the 1991 Calder Cup finals.
THREE STARS: 1. TEX Derek Meech (goal, assist); 2. TEX Radek Faksa (two goals); 3. TEX Dustin Jeffrey (two goals).