Griffins Even Series with OT Win
by Mark Caswell, Jr.May 29, 2015
The Western Conference Finals have now turned into a best-of-three series after the Utica Comets were defeated 3-2 by the Grand Rapids Griffins in the first overtime game of the series on Friday night at The Van Andel Arena.
Cory Conacher (1-0-1) has found his scoring touch and has now netted goals in back-to-back games. Alex Friesen (1-0-1) also found the back of the net on the power play for his fourth goal of the postseason. The Comets power play went 1-for-4 on the evening, and has now converted on four of their last 12 power-play chances after snapping a 1-for-28 funk.
“We played great tonight,” said Head Coach Travis Green. “We don’t have to change a lot. We have to come out and play another great 60 minutes (in Game 5).”
The power play continued to produce results for the Griffins as they opened up the scoring 5:48 into the second period. Dylan Larkin tallied his second assist of the postseason and his fourth point in four games after making a dish through the crease to Xavier Ouellet who pounded the puck in on the open side of the net. Ouellet’s go-ahead goal was his second in just as many games against the Comets.
Play turned back the other way once the Comets had their second power play of the night and Friesen was able to outwork two Griffins defensemen. Once he broke free, Friesen slid in towards the high slot and spiked it past Thomas McCollum’s left leg pad to tie the game up at one a piece. Sven Baertschi tallied the only assist on the play for his fourth point in two games.
The Comets didn’t stop there as Conacher tallied his second goal in as many games after a pass to the center slot from Alexandre Grenier led to a shot that passed under McCollum’s right arm for the 2-1 lead at the 16:42 mark of the second period. Cal O’Reilly also had a hand in on the play as he tallied his fifth assist of the series, and extended his point streak to four games.
The Griffins eventually found the equalizer just past the five-minute mark in to the third period. With Brian Lashoff at the blue line, the defensemen started a nice give-and-go play by feeding it to Andreas Athanasiou on the right wing. Athanasiou then quickly passed it to the front of the net where Anthony Mantha smacked it past Markstrom to make it 2-2.
An overtime period was necessary but the Griffins came out on top at 5:05 after Athanasiou broke away and beat Markstrom after he deked his way to the left side of the net. Athanasiou’s second point of the night put the game away with a final score of 3-2.
“We played well again tonight,” said Cal O’Reilly. “We did what we wanted to do. A few breakdowns cost us the game tonight.”
The Comets and the Griffins will wrap up their time at Van Andel Arena this Sunday as the two teams meet at 5 p.m. for Game 5 before heading back to Utica for Game 6 and 7*.
Notes: The Comets have now played 16 playoff games…Six of which were decided in overtime…The Comets possess a record of 3-3 in playoff overtimes games…The Comets have played nine periods of OT in the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs.
Three Stars: 1. GR– Andreas Athanasiou (1 Goal, 1 Assist) 2. GR – Xavier Ouellet (1 Goal) 3. UTI – Jacob Markstrom (24 Saves)
Grand Ol’ Time (Again): The two top two seeds in the Western Conference will be getting back to work tonight as the Grand Rapids Griffins host the Utica Comets for the second time in just as many nights for Game 4 of the Western Conference 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 another 7 p.m. puck drop at Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Griffins BAE-mboozled: It wasn’t a walk in the park from the Detroit Red Wings American Hockey League affiliate on Thursday night once Sven Baertschi found his groove and the second period and scored a natural hat trick all within an eight minute and 36 second span. The Comets eventually went on to win the game 4-1 which gave them the 2-1 series lead and returned home ice advantage to their court if need be.
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.
Will-come Back: The Utica Comets benefitted right away on Thursday night after Will Acton retuned to the Comets lineup after being of limits since March 21st with a lower a body injury. The forward tallied the first assist of the game and his first of the postseason after making a great heads up play to Baertschi at the blue line at the beginning of the second period.
In the 45 games Acton played for the Comets this regular season he recorded 11 goals and eight assists for a total of 19 points.
CONAN-cher the Barbarian: After recording 52 shots on goal through 15 postseason games, Cory Conacher finally found his second goal of the playoffs after rushing into the slot on Thursday night and popping the puck past Griffins netminder, Thomas McCollum to give the Comets the 4-1 lead. His first goal of the postseason was back on May 1st in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Wolves.
Welcome to the Pros: Jake Virtanen recorded his first professional point in Game 3 after he recorded the primary assist on Baertschi’s second goal of the night. The 18-year old forward recently completed his fourth season playing for the WHL Calgary Hitmen. He helped his club advance to the WHL Eastern Conference final, where he registered 13 points (5-8-13) in 14 playoff games. During the regular season, the 6’1”, 212-pound forward tallied 52 points (21-31-52) and 82 penalty minutes in 50 games played. He ranked third on the team in points per game at 1.04.
He Does It All: Jacob Markstrom also recorded his first assist in a Comets sweater on Thursday after Cory Conacher scored the Comets fourth and final goal of the night. The assist is his fourth career assist as a goaltender, and his second in the playoffs.
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 three game against the Comets he has a goal and two assists. Normally, those kind of numbers would jump out on a page but with an average of 1.38 points per game through 13 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.
Odds and Ends: The Griffins are 1-4 all time and 1-1 under coach Jeff Blashill when trailing 1-2 in a best-of-seven series, while the Comets are 0-1 all-time.
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 5 on Tap: This Sunday will see the conclusion of this series in Grand Rapids as the two teams will play the last game of the three scheduled inside the Griffins Territory. Puck-drop for Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals is slated for 5 p.m. Sunday before the Comets pack it up and travel back to Utica for a possible Game 6.