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Calder Cup Playoffs – Central Division Semifinals – Game 5 – Manitoba Wins Series, 3-2

Manitoba Moose 5 at GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 1

April 30, 2018

– For the first time since 2012, the Grand Rapids Griffins will not participate in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

After forcing Game 5 with a victory last Thursday, the defending champions fell 5-1 to the Manitoba Moose on Monday at Van Andel Arena in the deciding contest of the Central Division Semifinals.

The third-seeded Moose move on to the division finals to take on the fourth-seeded Rockford IceHogs, who dispatched the division champion Chicago Wolves in a three-game sweep of their first-round series.

Missing four regulars from their forward ranks due to a suspension to Eric Tangradi and injuries to Matt Lorito, Dominic Turgeon and Axel Holmstrom, the Griffins still managed to generate 35 shots on goal, but Moose goaltender Eric Comrie stopped all but one to end the Griffins’ reign and their remarkable run of playoff success that stretched back to 2013.

The Moose took the upper hand only 1:49 into the contest when Patrice Cormier finished off a 2-on-1 rush with Buddy Robinson by popping a backhand past Jared Coreau, who had shut out Manitoba in three straight starts dating back to February. Including Coreau’s relief appearance in Game 3, it marked his first goal allowed to the Moose in 97:41 and just the second in a whopping 234:18.

JC Lipon nearly doubled the visitors’ lead five minutes in but his wrist shot from the slot rang off the left post and out of harm’s way, and the Griffins took advantage of the reprieve to tie it on a power play goal two minutes later. With Jan Kostalek off for slashing, Matt Puempel blistered a one-timer into Comrie’s net from the top of the left circle at 6:53, sparking an eruption from the partisan crowd of 7,015. Puempel’s first goal of the playoffs was assisted by Filip Hronek, who earned his first career playoff point, and Ben Street, who increased his team-leading point total to eight.

Manitoba had the best scoring chances of the second period, most of them during the frame’s final minutes. Coreau denied point-blank chances by Francis Beauvillier and Brody Sutter with three minutes left then swallowed Beauvillier’s try on a partial break with a minute remaining, but he ultimately ceded the go-ahead goal 14 seconds before intermission. From the right circle, Brendan Lemieux sent a pass across to Cameron Schilling for a backdoor goal that staked the Moose to a crucial 2-1 advantage through 40 minutes.

The Moose added to their lead 6:39 into the third, just after the Griffins had missed several opportunities to tie the score during a power play. A forechecking Mike Sgarbossa forced Robbie Russo into a turnover in the left corner and eluded Coreau’s poke-check attempt at the left post before sliding a backhand under the sprawled netminder to make it a two-goal cushion. Lemieux all but sealed matters when he buried a bouncing puck from the slot with 8:43 remaining, and after Coreau went to the bench for an extra attacker with 4:16 left, Chase De Leo scored into the empty net at 16:31 for the final margin.

Coreau stopped 25 of 29 shots in the loss, which marked the Griffins’ first defeat in a playoff series since they fell to eventual Calder Cup champion Lake Erie in the 2016 Central Division Finals.

This was the third of four Grand Rapids-Manitoba playoff series to go the distance, as the Griffins lost a Game 7 in Winnipeg in 2007 and won a Game 7 against the Moose on home ice in 2006. The Griffins had won their last three winner-take-all games, all at home, including Game 5 wins in the first round against Toronto in 2015 and Houston in 2013.

The Griffins were attempting to become the second AHL team to advance to the second round in six consecutive seasons since the league’s current 16-team format was adopted in 2005 (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 2011 to 2016) and the second team in AHL history to reach the second round in five straight seasons after winning the Calder Cup (Cleveland Barons, 1942 to 1946 after winning the Cup in 1941). Instead, they begin their earliest offseason since missing the playoffs for three straight years from 2010 to 2012.

Notes: Grand Rapids had won seven of its last eight home games in which it faced elimination…The Griffins are now 4-5 all time in winner-take-all games, including 2-3 in Game 5s and 4-3 at home…Out of 31 first-round AHL games, the Griffins’ three home games ranked second (7,448 for Game 3), third (7,357 for Game 4) and fifth (7,015 for Game 5) in attendance…Despite playing all three home games Monday-Thursday, the Griffins led all 16 playoff teams during the division semifinals with an average attendance of 7,273.

Three Stars: 1. MB Lemieux (goal, two assists); 2. MB Comrie (W, 34 saves); 3. MB Sgarbossa (goal, assist)