Griffins Even Series as the Games Shift to Grand Rapids
by Mark Caswell, Jr.May 25, 2015
The Western Conference Finals are now all tied up at one game apiece after the Utica Comets dropped Game 2 to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Monday night at The Utica Memorial Auditorium.
Brendan Gaunce (1-1-2) and Sven Baertshci (1-0-1) found the only Comets goals of the night with two assists going to Cal O’Reilly (0-2-2).
Dylan Larkin found his first professional goal in his second professional game after Andreas Anthanasiou popped the puck from behind the net directly into the center slot. Larkin didn’t hesitate as he rocketed the shot past Jacob Markstrom’s glove hand for the 1-0 lead with five minutes left in the first period.
It was all Larkin again just 3:27 later after a defensive mistake allowed him to take a harmless looking shot from just above the left circle. Markstrom made the initial save but as the puck hit his leg pad it popped up and over and crossed the goal line to give the Griffins the 2-0 lead, something the Comets had done just a night earlier.
The Griffins doubled their lead in the second period with two power-play goals from both Teemu Pulkkinen and Tyler Bertuzzi, the Griffins top two goal-scorers this postseason. Their first came at 14:12 following a slashing minor from Comets center Wacey Hamilton. A hiccup in the Comets defensive zone left the puck free in the slot as Pulkkinen picked it up and ripped it short side for the 3-0 lead and his league-leading 14th goal of the postseason.
Their second power-play goal and their fourth overall saw Bertuzzi rip a shot off to the right of the slot and through the legs of Markstrom to make it 4-0 before heading into the third period.
Joacim Eriksson made his first postseason appearance for the Comets as he replaced Jacob Markstrom for the start of the third period. The Swedish goaltender only face two shots from the Griffins the entire third period.
The Griffins made things a little bit easier on the Comets after taking two consecutive delay of game penalties at the end of the third period. With less than six minutes left Bobby Sanguinetti was able to keep the puck inside the blue line followed by a dish back to O’Reilly on the boards. With a wide-open Gaunce in the center slot, O’Reilly fed it across to the middle and Gaunce rocketed it home for the power play goal and his fourth of the postseason to make it a 4-1 game.
With only 2:30 left in the game, the Comets found their second power-play goal after a nice set up in the crease from both Gaunce and O’Reilly. Baertschi received the puck to the right of McCollum and popped it past him to make it a final score of 4-2.
Special teams on both sides of the ice did some work on Monday night with a total of four power-play goals.
The series now shifts to Grand Rapids, Michigan as the two teams will play Games 3, 4, and 5 at the Van Andel Arena starting on Thursday night.
Three Stars: 1. GR – Dylan Larkin (2 Goals) 2. GR – Teemu Pulkkinen (1 Goal, 1 Assist) 3. UTI – Brendan Gaunce (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
Memorial Night The AUD: Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals between the Utica Comets and the Grand Rapids Griffins begins just 24 hours after Game 1 with another 7 p.m. puck drop at The Utica Memorial Auditorium.
Last Night: The Utica Comets walked away with a 1-0 series lead and the 2-1 victory on Sunday night after staying out of the penalty box and holding the Griffins offensive efforts off through the last two periods of play. Prior to Game 1, the Griffins had only been held to one goal this postseason, which happened in their Game 3 loss to the Rockford IceHogs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Who to watch – Griffins: Mark Zengerle (1-8-9) had not scored all postseason until putting one past Markstrom in the first period of Game 1. However, his assist total tells another story in that the player isn’t completely missing from the Griffin’s storyline. The right-winger has also done a very good job at staying out of the penalty box with only two penalty minutes in 11 games.
Tom McCollum, the Griffins goaltender, let in two first period goals in Game 1, one of which came just 35 seconds into the game, before shutting the Comets down the rest of the way. McCollum has posted a 2.61 goals-against-average in 10 games during the Griffins 11-game playoff run.
Who to watch – Comets: After being a healthy scratch from two of the Comets postseason games, Nicklas Jensen (2-1-3) kicked it up a notch when he scored the Comets first goal just 35 seconds after the puck was dropped in Game 1.
Alex Friesen (3-5-8) kept his torrid play, and although he did not appear on the scorer’s sheet, he led the team with five shots on goal in Game 1. Friesen has scored three goals this postseason, all of which came in Round 2 against the Oklahoma City Barons in the Semifinals.
Off To a Great Start: The Comets are now 2-1 in series-opening playoff games. Their lone loss came in the historic quadruple overtime game against the Oklahoma City Barons on May 7th earlier this year. Their win came in the franchise’s first playoff game against the Chicago Wolves on April 22nd. The Comets won that game 3-2 in double overtime. Teams that have won Game 1 have gone on to win 10 out of 12 of the series in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Road Blues: The Griffins own a 2-4 record on the road in the playoffs, including a 0-3 record in road opening games during the 2015 playoffs. The loss marked just the second time in six best-of-seven series under Head Coach Jeff Blashill that the Griffins have lost Game 1. The only other time Blashill’s Griffins have lost a Game 1 was to the Texas Stars in last year’s Conference Semifinals. The Stars went on the win the Calder Cup.
Even Strength Goals: As mentioned in the preview for Game 1, we took a look at even-strength goals against on both goaltenders. Jacob Markstrom did not let in an even-strength goal during Game 1, however Tom McCollum let in two. In the 10 games McCollum has managed his teams crease, McCollum has let in 23 even-strength goals. This is great news for the Comets struggling power play, which has a scoring percentage of just 12 percent this postseason.
WHITEout Effect: The Comets asked that fans WHITEout The AUD for all playoff games, and boy are they off to a hot start. The WHITEout serves as a rallying cry, and shows support to the players wearing WHITE on the ice. Add the WHITEout intimidation factor in with the ear-splitting noise the Comets faithful brings to the game, and you have a decided edge in favor of the home team. The atmosphere created by the “5th Line” is a unique element, and Utica fans will once again need to make their presence known throughout the playoffs just like they have all season. During sellouts at The AUD the Comets won 18 out of 29 games (62%) with the help of their fans.
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.
Headed to the Rapids: After tonight’s game, the Comets and the Griffins will travel to Grand Rapids Michigan for Games 3,4, and 5* and it all starts this Thursday May 28th at 7 p.m.
* If necessary