Round 3: Playoff Notebook

by Mark Caswell, Jr.

Jun 1, 2015 Stay tuned here for updates from the Comets third round series against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Follow @UticaComets on Twitter and Instagram for photo updates. Round 1’s Notebook can be found here. Round 2's Notebook can be found here. TUESDAY, 6/2 - GAMEDAY - Puck drop 7pm ET 12:02am: Post-game reactions: -"We as a team have accomplished this." -Jacob Markstrom -"We get to celebrate this win tonight and tomorrow get back at it at practice." -Jacob Markstrom -"This city has been great to us." -Jacob Markstrom -"In the playoffs this crowd is crazy, it kind of forces us to do our very best." -Jacob Markstrom -"Every time there was a bad rebound, our guys were there." -Jacob Markstrom -"I believe in our group, it's going to be a tough series. I have a lot of faith." -Travis Green -"Taking Jensen out isn't easy, especially in a game like this." -Travis Green -"It's never easy with lineups especially with our team."-Travis Green -"We got the lead in the second and played a lot in their zone." -Travis Green 11:43pm: There are simply no words to describe The AUD tonight. The place was rocking as the boys completely shut down the Grand Rapids potent offense. Prior to the game, as he walked off the ice for warm-ups, Mike Zalewski told me "Tonight's the night, Mark." There was absolutely zero doubt in his voice when he said it. That's as close to a guarantee as you can get. Side note, the Utica Police Department brought the noise meter. It was in the player's tunnel (behind glass) for Grenier's empty-net goal. It hit 118 dBs. The record for an indoor hockey arena is 126 dBs. The Comets will play the Manchester Monarchs for the Calder Cup! Markstrom and the Comets blanked the Grand Rapids Griffins 2-0. 6:43pm: We're about 15 minutes from puck drop and The AUD is absolutely electric right now. Loud chants welcomed the players to the ice for warm-ups. Special feeling here in the old barn. 11:42am: Could today be the day history is made in the Mohawk Valley? The Comets certainly hope so. Game time is set for 7pm with no surprises in net. Markstrom vs. McCollum. MONDAY, 6/1 - Off-day 12:35pm: I apologize for the delay in getting you your Comets fix for the day. I'm hoping ESPN's Top 10 List held you over. Don't know what I'm talking about? Jacob Markstrom's stick save has taken over the hockey world. The save was ranked as the #1 play of the day in SportsCenter's Top 10, shown at, NBC's ProHockeyNews, and other prominent media outlets. You can watch the impressive save below. Minutes later Markstrom made an equally impressive stop on a Griffins 2-on-0. SUNDAY, 5/31 - GAMEDAY - Puck drop 5pm ET 10:03pm: Something happened on social media before and during tonight's game that was eye-opening to me. The Comets account received pro-Comets tweets from fans in 14 countries. New Zealand, Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, Sweden, Norway, Canada, U.S., United Kingdom, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Brazil, and Russia, all sent well wishes to the boys in blue. 9:15pm: The Comets stole a big win, and sometimes you need to do just that. Outside of a nine minute stretch, the Comets were outplayed by the Griffins most of the night. That's reflected in the below post-game comments: -"Markstrom was big-time tonight. This time of the year you want your goalie to be at his best." -Green -"It wasn't our best game but we managed to get it done. We grinded out a greasy win." - O'Reilly -"The guys in front of me helped me out by blocking a lot of shots. Made my job easier." - Markstrom -"There are two reasons why the team bounces back so well. They are a resilient group, and they are committed to winning." - Green -"We want to get it done in Game 6. We don't want to chance a Game 7." -O'Reilly -"Scoring early was real important tonight especially on the road, the early goal was big." -Green The fans are also being talked about prior to Game 6. Take a look: -"The fans just need to do what we've seen them do. They are the best fans and we're looking forward to playing in front of them."-Green -"The fans are going to be rocking. It'll be great to play in front of them again." -Cal O'Reilly The Comets took Game 5 by the score of 3-2. The boys in blue scored three first period goals and then hung on as Markstrom stole the show yet again. 12:41pm: High-scoring Teemu Pulkkinen was held to just one shot in Game 4, the second time the Comets have been able to do that (Game 1). If the Comets want to advance, they'll have to continue to keep his big shot at bay. Utica has done a great job sticking a guy on him and not giving him much room once he does get the puck. They also frustrate the Finnish forward by finishing every check possible. They clearly got to him once last game and made him draw a roughing penalty for retaliating to a Virtanen check along the boards. 12:31pm: Game 5, series tied at two games each. This has quickly become an old hat for the Comets. The Comets are 3-0 all-time in Game 5's where the series is tied at 2, (really, any Game 5), and 1-0 on the road. Under Jeff Blashill's tutelage, the Griffins are 1-1 in such situations. 12:28pm: McCollum vs. Markstrom. Round 5. SATURDAY, 5/30 - Off-day 6:12pm: The mini-golf tournament ended decisively in Team Canada's favor. Amidst a lot of Happy Gilmore quotes, Team Canada took the 9-4 win. Hopefully that is the last of golf for the Comets for awhile. 2:11pm: A lot of people have asked what happened with McCollum and Jensen while the Griffins scored in overtime. Below is a GIF of the incident. It appears as if McCollum, in an attempt to draw an interference penalty yanks Jensen by his stick, into him. Of course, if you listen to the Griffins' broadcast, their radio announcer felt Jensen cross-checked McCollum in the head for no reason. I'd be really shocked if that was the case simply because that is not Jensen's game, and is just not known to do things like that. jensen gif 1:30pm: Always in the mood to compete (one of Travis Green's buzzwords), the guys have split each other up into "Canadiens" and "Planet USA (everyone else), and will compete in a mini-golf tournament. Results to follow. 11:43am: The guys who didn't play last night got a morning skate in. Other than that, not much to report today. FRIDAY, 5/29 - GAMEDAY - Puck drop 7pm ET 11:19pm: Some post-game reactions: "We played well again tonight. We did what we wanted to do. A few breakdowns cost us the game tonight." -O'Reilly "We played great tonight. We don't have to change a lot. Have to come out and play another great 60 minutes (in Game 5). -Travis Green 10:48pm: The locker room was pretty upbeat despite the overtime loss. The consensus seemed to be that the team played well and felt they should have won the game. The series is tied at two games each after the Comets dropped an overtime heartbreaker 3-2 to the Griffins. 5:08pm: Just prior to game time, the Griffins announced the additions of three players to their roster. The Detroit Red Wings on Friday reassigned right wing Martin Frk from the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye to the Grand Rapids Griffins. In addition, the Griffins recalled forward Alden Hirschfeld and defenseman Scott Czarnowczan from their ECHL affiliate. 1:11pm: You will not want to miss this. TSN1040 had Canucks General Manager Jim Benning on air to discuss what he saw from watching the Comets. Listen here. 12:19pm: No surprises from morning skate, as it was optional. Not many game players skated. In the mean time, take a look at what the Grand Rapids strategy for Game 4 is vs. Markstrom. 9:13am: Sights and sounds from last night's win, highlights here, and game photos here. THURSDAY, 5/28 - GAMEDAY - Puck drop 7pm ET 11:15pm: Cory Conacher was assessed a 10-minute misconduct after scoring the Comets final tally after he made sure he got the attention of Teemu Pulkkinen. Pulkinnen was harassed all night by the Comets, who put a body on him every time he touched the puck. Most notably was his and Virtanen's exchange in the first period which resulted in matching roughing penalties (as you can see below). It could be possible he has their attention after his over-the-top, three-quarters of the ice celebration, complete with a "sssh-ing" of The AUD's crowd after he scored in Game 2. It is definitely something to keep your eyes on. Virtanen's hit on Pulkinnen, and the scuffle after: virtanen1 virtanen2 10:23pm: Some post-game reactions and quotes: "I can be honest with this group about areas where we were good and not so good. We played better tonight, in a tough building." -Green "I liked his (Sven's) play. He was around the puck and carried the puck all night. When he carries the puck I know he's playing well" -Green "Nice to see Conacher get one, he's been a bit snake bitten as of late." -Green "We're a real focused group especially during the ups and downs of playoff hockey. We bounced back well." -Baertschi "Our line and the power play are going well, things are clicking right now." -Baertschi Sven Baertschi's natural hat trick in the second period, and Markstrom's 40-save performance leads the Comets to a 4-1 victory. 1:00pm: From the AHL's Morning Skate: In Calder Cup Playoff history, there have been 191 best-of-seven series that were tied at 1-1; the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the series 136 times (71.2 percent). 12:15pm: Grand Rapids Griffins broadcaster, Bob Kaser, went on SiriusXM radio yesterday morning and raved about the fans in Utica, and the atmosphere. This is something you will want to listen to. Listen Here. 11:52am: No official word from Head Coach Travis Green, but the expectations are Will Acton will take DeFazio's place in the line-up tonight. It'll be his first game back since suffering a lower body injury back on March 21st. 11:48am: By morning skate indications, McCollum and Markstrom are once again your dueling goaltenders. 10:02am: The day started off with the shocking announcement that Comets forward Brandon DeFazio will be suspended for Games 3 and 4 of the Conference Finals, for an interference play that he was penalized on. defazio gif WEDNESDAY, 5/27 - Practice Day 3:30pm: The travel schedule for the Comets isn't the friendliest on this trip, and there will be quite a bit of shuffling due to a massive volleyball tournament that is held annually in Grand Rapids. The Comets will stay in a hotel within walking distance to Van Andel Arena to start the trip. After Thursday's game the team will bus it to Kalamazoo where they will reside until the return trip to Utica early Monday morning. Kalamazoo is approximately an hour drive from Grand Rapids. 1:03pm: The Grand Rapids Griffins took a significant hit to their line-up in Game 2, and will be without one of their players that led the league in +/- for at least two games. After taking a hit from Brandon DeFazio in the first period, Tomas Nosek (+30) did not return to the game. According the Head Coach Jeff Blashill, Nosek will miss at least the next two games. Either Mark Trvdon, or Comets Training Camp invitee, Chris Bruton, will fill the void left by Nosek. 12:42pm: Happily, for this writer and many fans back in Utica, the city of Grand Rapids resides in the Eastern Time Zone, so no more messing with clocks or unusual 8pm puck drops in Utica. With that said, let's dive back into Jacob Markstrom's numbers following losses: Record: 5-0 .964 Save%: 0.95 GAA: 5 GA 1 SO He's posted equally as good of numbers when he's been pulled (or ejected) from the net after starting a game this season. Take a look: Record: 2-0 .959 save% 1.50 GAA 3 GA TUESDAY, 5/26 - Travel Day 3:53pm: The Western Conference Finals shifts to Van Andel Arena, where the Griffins are a perfect 5-0 this postseason, for Games 3, 4, and 5. The Griffins and Manchester Monarchs are the only undefeated teams left in the American Hockey League's playoffs, however, if there is one team up to the task of marring the Griffins' record it very well could be the Comets. Comets owned a 22-10-4-2 record on the road this season. Here's where their road accomplishments ranked in the AHL: 50 Points - Tied for first with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 22 Wins - Tied for second with San Antonio 14 Regulation + OT Losses - Tied for first with Grand Rapids 10 Regulation Losses - Tied for first with Manchester The Comets have continued their road success through the first two rounds of the playoffs and are just one of two teams (along with the Hershey Bears) who possess a winning record (3-2). 11:21am: The team hit the road, by bus, last night. The 10-hour journey will be broken up into two legs. They stopped in Buffalo, NY last night, and will make the rest of the trip today. Grand Rapids operates in the eastern time zone so that means no more 8pm puck drops for Comets fans. Game 1 is Thursday at 7pm. 10:18am: A quick morning run through of everything from last night. Game photos can be viewed here, and highlights below. MONDAY, 5/25 - Game-day - Puck drop 7pm 11:13pm: Post-game reactions: "We're not panicking by any means. Again we did some good things during the game. Every game is a learning lesson and we need to get ready for the next game" -Green "I didn't like the way we started the game. There is a certain way that we play and I thought tonight they had a little more urgency in their game, early in the game, than we did." -Travis Green "Last two periods we played pretty good hockey. Even strength chances were favored in our side." -Travis Green "We know we have a good hockey team. We controlled the play the last two periods. But again, they had the lead, and that happens a lot where teams protect their lead and sit back a little bit." -Travis Green "I thought Jake (Virtanen) was good tonight. We bumped him up with Friesen and Baertschi. I think he's starting to find his way, starting to feel a little more comfortable, carrying the puck a little bit more. I thought he had some good shots, so that was a positive to see tonight for sure." -Travis Green "We didn't have a great start, not that we were horrible, but they were more urgent to start the game, and that's what hurt us tonight." -Cal O'Reilly "It's good that the power play got a couple goals because it has been struggling and I just think we were more urgent the last two periods. This time of the year you have to play like that, you have to be urgent and you have to play desperate." -Cal O'Reilly 10:43pm: The Comets dropped a game in which they could've taken a commanding lead on the series before hitting the road, but that just would not be the Comets way. The team has never owned more than a one-game lead in any series, and besides two empty-net goals, have not won a game by more than a single goal. Tight, close games and series is just the Comets way. Something to keep an eye on is Pulkkinen. After being held to just a single shot and a -1 rating in Game 1, he burst onto the scene last night with two points, and a +1 rating. His extended, three-quarters of the ice celebration after scoring for the first time in the series seemed to be a bit over the top to some, especially in a 3-0 game at that point. The Comets dropped Game 2 by the score of 4-2 to the Grand Rapids Griffins. 3:55pm: Update on Bobby Sanguinetti. 10:54am: Did not see Sanguinetti on the ice for the optional morning skate, but also did not see many of the regulars out there. We'll have to wait until pre-game skate at 6:23pm to see the status of the All-Star defenseman. 9:29am: The big question of the day is all about Bobby Sanguinetti, who left the game with 2:56 left in the third after getting boarded from behind by Louis-Marc Aubry. We'll keep an eye on Sanguinetti during morning skate, and provide any updates we can. In the mean time, check out these great photos from last night's game. SUNDAY, 5/24 - Game-day - Puck drop 7pm 11:45pm: Quite a sight in the locker room post-game, Vancouver Canucks' General Manager, Jim Benning, has made it his routine to be in the locker room and have a chat with individual players after games. You can tell the players genuinely enjoy the interaction, and it is something the new Vancouver regime has done during every visit this year. Some post-game reactions: -"They(Griffins) have a good goalie. We did a good job in putting pucks on net." - Travis Green -"You always want to get the first goal. It loosened us up. Thought it was a great game tonight" - Travis Green. -"I like how we played.This time of year it's hard to score goals. In the 3rd period we knew we would have to hang on."-Travis Green. -"We knew they(Griffins) have fire power. We did a good job in not taking our foot off the gas." - Brandon DeFazio -"A lot of little things add up. Details have to be executed."- Brandon DeFazio The Comets ride a two-goal first period to a 2-1 victory in Game 1. 1:13pm: Jacob Markstrom vs. Tom McCollum in net tonight. 9:43am: There was only one player who played for both the Comets and the Griffins during the 2014-15 American Hockey League season. That man is goaltender Pat Nagle. I caught up with Patty to get a peek at the upcoming series. Q. First off, what can you tell us about Grand Rapids style of play? Nagle: Grand Rapids is a very structurally sound team. They execute there systems with discipline, which leads to success. They have a good variety of experience and youth on both the offensive and defensive side of the puck, and move the puck very well at both ends of the ice. Throughout the series you will see similarities from both teams. Both the Comets and Griffins have wise coaching staffs and equally as strong line-ups. Both teams are very deep at every position, and to no surprise they finished atop the Western Conference. The offense in this series is incredible as well as the defensive players on both teams. Chances are it will come down to who can come up with that big power-play goal at a crucial time or the big save at the other end of the ice. Q. Teemu Pulkkinen has scored 13 goals in just 10 games, which is halfway to the record for goals in a single playoffs, obviously he’s dangerous. What can you tell us about him, and his game? Nagle: Teemu does a great job of finding the soft areas in the offensive zone, and does not need a lot of time or space to hurt the opposing team. He has an incredible shot which allows him to beat goalies from places on the ice that they may not feel are dangerous. Grand Rapids utilizes his shot a lot, often times on the power play where he is able to unload a very heavy one-timer. Following his much deserved call up to the Red Wings he not only gained confidence but continues to stay one of the hottest players in the AHL. Q. The Griffins as a team put up big offensive numbers, most notably their league-leading 249 goals, talk about their defensive efforts, and what they aim to do to limit opposing teams scoring? (Griffins only let up 185 goals, three more than the Comets) Nagle: Being able to play in front of both teams allowed me to see how sound both teams were defensively. The coaching staffs on both sides have done a great job through video and scouting, which allows the players to anticipate the play. Clearly the players have to go out and do the job still, which both have been very successful at. Grand Rapids has some veteran defensemen that do a great job of leading the d-corps through battle. They do all of the little things so well that everyone feeds off of their play. Those little things is what makes teams successful in the playoffs. It also allows the younger guys to see exactly what they need to be doing especially at a high pace of play. Q. Any predictions on who wins the series and in how many games? Nagle: I would not be surprised to see this series go the full seven games. Each team has found a way to come back in games, let alone hold on to leads, and fight through injures and long overtimes. Both teams are here for a reason and are battling for an opportunity in the finals. Both organizations are exceptional and you see that with all the attention they have attracted in the past couple weeks. Also, both teams are incredibly talented throughout the entire lineup. I am excited to see how some of the younger guys are implemented into each team's line-up, and what they do throughout the series. Utica, as well as Grand Rapids, have solid veteran players with some very good young prospects sprinkled in. Home ice should be a big part of the series as both teams have great fan bases and incredible atmospheres with-in each facility. Having buddies on both teams and being fortunate enough to be apart of both groups this season I really look forward to a great series. Good luck to both teams. SATURDAY, 5/23- OFF-DAY 4:18pm: Let's put the finishing touches on the second round before we fully advance to the Conference Finals. The newest #BuiltForThisMoment video from Game 7 is something you will not want to miss.
Back to All