Jensen, DeFazio and Stellar Defense Gets Comets Off on Right Foot
by Mark Caswell, Jr.May 24, 2015
The Utica Comets held the high-powered Grand Rapids Griffins offense to just one goal, just the second time that feat has been accomplished this postseason, and claimed a 2-1 Game 1 victory at The Utica Memorial Auditorium Sunday night.
Nicklas Jensen (1-0-1) and Brandon DeFazio (1-0-1) both tallied their second goals of the postseason as they pushed the Comets over the Griffins to take the 1-0 series lead.
They say that Game 1 of a series usually sets the tone and the Comets attempted to set it pretty quickly as Nicklas Jensen found the top corner of the mesh just 35 seconds into the opening period. After obtaining the puck from Peter Andersson, Jensen lifted the puck at an angle that was just awkward enough to whiz past Tom McCollum’s shoulder to give the Comets the 1-0 lead. Cal O’Reilly tallied the secondary assist for his tenth of the postseason.
The Comets put another goal up on the board a little over 10 minutes later after Brandon DeFazio popped an innocent looking shot on net that just trickled past McCollum’s leg and over the goal line to make it a 2-0 game. Both Wacey Hamilton and Adam Clendening received assists on the play.
A well planned faceoff and a Comets penalty is all it took for the Griffins to find their first of the night with a little less than four minutes left in the first period. Teemu Pulkkinen set up the play with a pass to Nathan Paetsch at the blue line. Paetsch then shot it to the left of the net and the puck met Mark Zengerle’s stick prior to popping into the net for the power-play goal.
The Comets learned from their lesson and stayed out of the penalty box the rest of the way as they held the Griffins off through the two remaining periods. En route to their 2-1 victory the Comets took control of shots on goal with a total of 31 compared to the Griffins 26 on Jacob Markstrom, their second-lowest total of shots on net in the postseason. (24 shots on May 13th vs Rockford)
The third round series continues Monday night at The AUD as the Comets and Griffins will partake in Game 2 before shifting the series to Grand Rapids, Michigan for Games 3, 4 and 5*.
Three Stars: 1. UTI– Jacob Markstrom (25 Saves, Win) 2. UTI – Brandon DeFazio (1 Goal) 3. UTI– Nicklas Jensen (1 Goal)
Tonight at The AUD: After pushing both their first and second round series to the absolute brink, the Utica Comets only look ahead as they have fixated their attention on their third round opponents, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Western Conference Finals is another best-of-seven series that is slated to begin right in the heart of Utica at The Utica Memorial Auditorium at 7 p.m. this evening.
Regular Season: The Comets and Griffins have played each other twice all-time with both games coming this season. Led by Dustin Jeffrey’s two goals, the Comets emerged with a 4-2 win at The AUD back on January 14th. Just over a week later on January 23rd the Griffins returned the favor and defeated the Comets 5-1 at Van Andel Arena. That victory ignited the Griffins, over the next 24 games they would lose only a single game in regulation, including a league-best and franchise-record 19-game point streak.
In the Crease: It’s no secret that the Comets have played their best hockey at even strength during their playoff run. The Comets have struggled on the power play with only six goals in a total of 47 opportunities in the postseason.
If we look more closely at the Comets numbers during five-on-five play, it would suggest that the Comets goaltender, Jacob Markstrom will have the edge over Tom McCollum. Through all 12 of the Comets games this postseason, Markstrom has allowed just 16 goals when the teams are playing at even-strength. While looking at McCollum’s numbers, the Griffin’s goaltender has let in 21 goals in just nine games when playing at even-strength. If you add in Markstrom’s remarkable 1.85 goals-against-average and .930 save percentage, the Comets have the advantage in the crease.
Who to watch – Griffins: Teemu Pulkkinen (13-2-15) has been an absolute blessing to the Griffins with 13 goals in 10 games for his club. What should be noted is that five of his 13 goals were found on the power play and if the Comets can avoid taking bad penalties, they might be able to take a good chunk of Pulkkinen’s offensive prowess away from him.
Tyler Bertuzzi (6-3-9) is another one of the Griffins assets with six goals in eight games. Finishing moves are no stranger to Bertuzzi (and no, we’re not talking about Mortal Kombat) because the forward has four of the Griffins game-winning goals this postseason.
Who to watch – Comets: Alexandre Grenier (4-6-10) has been killing it offensively for the Comets with a team-leading total of 10 points. During their second round series against the Barons, Grenier netted two game-winning goals, which helped the Comets propel themselves into the Western Conference Finals. Grenier has taken the second-most number of shots (37) on the team right underneath Cory Conacher (43) who has been grinding away to find his second goal of the 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.
Memorial Day – Game 2: The Comets and the Griffins are right back at it tomorrow at 7 p.m. as they will play Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals at The AUD before they ship off to Grand Rapids for Games 3, 4 and 5* later in the week.
* If necessary