Comets Headed Home with Chance at History
by Mark Caswell, Jr.May 31, 2015
The Utica Comets are one win away from clinching a spot in the Calder Cup Finals and claiming the Western Conference title after defeating the Grand Rapids Griffins 3-2 Sunday evening at The Van Andel Arena.
Wacey Hamilton (1-0-1), Hunter Shinkaruk, (1-0-1), and Bobby Sanguinetti (1-0-1) first period goals would hold up for the Comets, who know hold a 3-2 series lead. Brendan Gaunce (0-2-2) handed out great opportunities to his teammates with two assists on the night for a total of five this postseason. Jacob Markstrom saw his 10th win of the postseason after making 32 stops including a highlight reel stick save.
“”It wasn’t our best game but we managed to get it done,” said Comets captain Cal O’Reilly. “We grinded out a greasy win tonight.”
It was a busy first period for the Comets as they quickly found three goals within the first 12 minutes. Hamilton kicked it off at 2:14 after he redirected a shot by Gaunce that slipped past McCollum’s short side for the early lead. Mike Zalewski was credited with the secondary assist.
About two minutes later, the Griffins took advantage of their first power play of the night and Mark Zengerle sniped the puck through some traffic after collecting the rebound for the equalizer. Tyler Bertuzzi recorded the only assist on the play after taking the initial shot on Markstrom.
From there, the Comets showed no mercy and answered back at 6:07 with a nice touch in front by Shinkaruk who discovered the puck skipping around in the blue paint after a shot from Brandon DeFazio. The Comets then transformed their one-goal lead into a two-goal lead after Sanguinetti sniped a shot directly past the McCollum’s glove hand and into the top right hand corner of the net at 11:47.
The Comets had a long way to go with a 3-1 lead after the first period and the Griffins made it clear they weren’t going to roll over. Just 56 seconds prior to the end of the second the Griffins’ power play struck for the second time in the game. Dylan Larkin scored his third goal of his professional career after he spiked the puck into the net from a close angle at the bottom of the right circle. Both Jeff Hoggan and Xavier Ouellet assisted on the Griffins power-play goal that made the score 3-2.
After giving the Griffins a total of five power-play opportunities through the first two periods, the Comets refrained from taking any more penalties during the third period which helped them walk away with the 3-2 win and the series lead.
In the second period Markstrom made a highlight reel save as he denied a Ryan Sproul shot with the paddle of his stick. Sproul, all alone on the far side, had a rebound kick directly to him. Markstrom, in a last ditch effort, stuck out his stick and swatted it away from the gaping net to keep the Comets then two-goal lead.
“Markstrom was big-time tonight,” said Head Coach Travis Green. “This time of the year you want your goalie to be at his best, and he was.”
With a 2-3-2 series format, the Comets have now finished their three game stint in Grand Rapids and will return to The Utica Memorial Auditorium in hopes of closing the series out in Game 6 of the Conference Finals this Tuesday.
Three Stars: 1. UTI – Jacob Markstrom (32 Saves, Win) 2. UTI – Brendan Gaunce (2 Assists) 3. GR – Dylan Larkin (1 Goal)
Pivotal Game 5: Through four games the top two seeds in the Western Conference, the Utica Comets and Grand Rapids Griffins, have exchanged blows in a series that can only be compared to a heavyweight boxing match. Tonight’s Game 5 will put one of these teams on the cusp of grabbing the final slot in the Calder Cup Finals.
This is the only series that is actively left in the American Hockey League until the Calder Cup Finals begin in early June. The top seed in the East, the Manchester Monarchs, completed a four-game sweep over the Hartford Wolfpack this past Wednesday night and have clinched one of the two spots in the Calder Cup Finals.
Tonight’s game is slated for a 5 p.m. puck drop at Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Hot Coco: Cory Conacher scored just once this playoffs headed into Game 3, that goal came back against the Chicago Wolves in Game 3 of the Conference Quarterfinals. “Coco” appears to be heating up, exactly at the right time, and has scored in back-to-back games, Games 3 and 4 of this series. His seven shots in Game 4 were a team high.
Respond. After losing in quadruple overtime to the Oklahoma City Barons, Head Coach Travis Green wrote one word on the whiteboard. “Respond”. The team has done just that. In games immediately following losses this year the team is 6-0, and have scored an average of 2.67 goals, while allowing an average of just one goal a game.
Found the Mojo: The Comets power play seems to have found their stride. After putting an end to a 1-for-28 (3.6%) funk in Game 2, the power play is 4-for-9 (44.4%). Baertschi (2-1-3), Gaunce (1-1-2), Sanguinetti (0-2-2) and O’Reilly (0-3-3) have all recorded multiple power-play points during the recent surge.
Return of the Mark: Goaltender Jacob Markstrom has bounced back well in games following a loss. The Swedish netminder is 6-0 with a 0.96 goals against average, and a .966 save percentage in such games. In those games he has allowed multiple goals just once, and has a shutout to boot.
Bird Watching: Teemu Pulkkinen (14-4-18) has been undoubtedly the Griffins best offensive player this season. However, the Comets have, in a sense, kept him in check. In four game against the Comets he has a goal and two assists. Normally, those kind of numbers would suffice but with an average of 1.29 points per game through 14 postseason games, Pulkkinen hasn’t been able to keep up the torrid pace he set during the Griffins first two series.
Andy Miele (3-11-14) is another player with a point average higher than one per game that has only tallied one assist through three games against the Comets.
Dropping Some Knowledge: In the history of the Calder Cup Playoffs there have been 191 best-of-seven series that were tied after two games. The Game 3 winner has gone on to win the series 136 times for an overall percentage of 71.2. The Utica Comets have the chance to make that percentage go up after winning Game 3 on Thursday against the Griffins in the Western Conference Finals.
Complete Coverage: Can’t listen to Brendan Burke or watch the game on AHL Live? No problem! Just follow us on @UticaComets or @CometsInGame on Twitter and we’ve got you covered with live up to the minute updates and instant videos of all the Comets goals.
#BuiltForThisMoment: It’s your turn to show us how you celebrate during a Comets game, whether it’s at The AUD, on your couch or at the bar. Submit your videos by posting them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and including the hashtag #BuiltForThisMoment for a chance to have your video after the game concludes.
Game 6 on Tap: The Comets are guaranteed one more home game in this series against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Game 6 is scheduled for Tuesday, June 2 at The AUD.