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06/08/2013 9:13 AM -

2013 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs  *  Calder Cup Finals  *  Best of Seven

    Game 1 - Sat., June 8 - GRIFFINS at Crunch - 7 p.m.
    Game 2 - Sun., June 9 - GRIFFINS at Crunch - 6 p.m.
    Game 3 - Wed., June 12 - Crunch at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (season ticket Game K)
    Game 4 - Fri., June 14 - Crunch at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game L)
    *Game 5 - Sat., June 15 - Crunch at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game M)

    *Game 6 - Tue., June 18 - GRIFFINS at Crunch  - 7 p.m.
    *Game 7 - Thu., June 20 - GRIFFINS at Crunch - 7 p.m.

     * If necessary. All times Eastern and subject to change. All games on Newsradio WOOD 106.9 FM & 1300 AM.

It All Ends Here: After 1,140 regular-season games and three playoff rounds, only the Grand Rapids Griffins and Syracuse Crunch are left standing, and they will battle for the Calder Cup after winning their respective conferences. The Griffins advanced to the Calder Cup Finals after defeating the No. 5 Oklahoma City Barons in a thrilling seven-game series, capped off with a wild 5-4 victory at Van Andel Arena on June 5. The third-seeded Griffins, who won the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as Western Conference playoff champions, also defeated No. 6 Houston in five games and No. 2 Toronto in six games. Fellow third seed Syracuse beat the same seeds in sequence: No. 6 Portland (3-0), No. 2 Springfield (4-0) and No. 5 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (4-1) to capture Richard F. Canning Trophy as champions of the Eastern Conference.

First Timers: The AHL will have a first-time champion this year, as neither the Griffins nor the Crunch have ever won the Calder Cup or reached the finals. The Crunch have only advanced past the first round of the playoffs in four of their 19 seasons, and this season marks the first time since 1996 and second time ever that they advanced to the conference finals. The Griffins were victorious in their first conference finals appearance since 2006, and they advanced to their second championship round in 17 seasons. They had previously competed in the 2000 IHL Turner Cup Finals but fell in six games to the Chicago Wolves. Additionally, the Griffins are looking to break a four-year string of Eastern Conference winners. Hershey won back-to-back titles over Manitoba and Texas in 2009 and 2010 before Binghamton beat Houston in 2011 and Norfolk defeated Toronto in 2012.

Check the History Books: The Griffins and Crunch did not meet during the regular season, as Grand Rapids has not played an Eastern Conference opponent since 2008-09 – which is also the last season Syracuse competed in the North Division before shifting conferences in 2009-10. The two teams squared off 22 times over five seasons from 2002-09, with the Griffins showing a 14-6-0-0-2 record. Grand Rapids is 8-2-0-0-1 against Syracuse at Van Andel Arena and 6-4-0-0-1 at the Onondaga County War Memorial. The last meeting between the clubs was a 6-5 win for Syracuse on Feb. 27, 2009. Then-captain Darren Haydar had a hat trick for the Griffins in that contest, and Cory Emmerton and Ryan Oulahen were the other goal scorers. Syracuse, an affiliate to Columbus at the time, got goals from Grant Clitsome, Trevor Frischmon, Nick Holden, Craig MacDonald, Brian McGuirk and Alexandre Picard. Jan Mursak is the lone player remaining from that game, although Francis Pare was also on the roster.

Admiral Connection: After the Norfolk Admirals won the Calder Cup over the Toronto Marlies last June, the parent Tampa Bay Lightning announced a change in affiliates to the Syracuse Crunch. Ten players on the Crunch roster are looking for a second straight championship after flipping teams: Mike Angelidis, Mark Barberio, Jean-Philippe Cote, Philip-Michael Devos, Radko Gudas, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik, as well as Eric Neilson and Evan Oberg, who haven’t played for Syracuse yet in the postseason.

Rolling Along: Like Grand Rapids, Syracuse is deeper in the playoffs than it has ever been in 19 AHL seasons, with its only other conference finals berth coming in 1996. The Crunch have been nearly perfect in the postseason so far, quickly advancing to the Calder Cup Finals with an 11-1 record – a 4-2 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is their only defeat of the postseason. Additionally, the club features 10 players who were part of the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals squad that tore through the AHL on its way to a championship. The Admirals finished the 2012 postseason with 10 consecutive wins and won 43 of their final 46 games over the last four months of the year. Including the Crunch’s 7-0 start to this year’s playoffs, that core group of former Admirals won 17 straight playoff games and swept four consecutive series before that Game 1 loss to the Penguins.

Top Stopper: Petr Mrazek has wasted no time writing his name in the Griffins’ postseason record books. In addition to becoming the third rookie netminder to start a playoff game (joining Jimmy Howard in 2006 and Mathieu Chouinard in 2001), Mrazek became the first goalie in franchise history to record more than one playoff shutout after his second of the postseason in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Toronto. Mrazek is up to four shutouts this postseason after consecutive shutouts against Oklahoma City in Games 4 and 5, doubling the total number of playoff shutouts in franchise history to eight. Additionally, his save totals of 40 and 37 in those last two shutouts bested his season high of 33. Incredibly, Mrazek’s shutout streak against Oklahoma City was only his second-longest of the postseason, as he kept opponents scoreless for 178:58 over four games spanning the conference quarterfinals against Houston and the semifinals versus Toronto. Mrazek’s 11 wins give him the Griffins’ record for victories in a playoff season and sit second in franchise history, behind only Jimmy Howard’s 12.

Run for the Ages: The Griffins are enjoying the longest playoff run in franchise history, setting records with 17 playoff games and 11 wins, as the only other finals trip in franchise history featured only three rounds. Additionally, the Griffins will play later in the year than ever before, as Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals was held on June 5, matching the final game of the 2000 IHL Turner Cup Finals as the latest in franchise history. The Calder Cup Finals could end as early as June 14 in Grand Rapids or as late as June 20 in Syracuse.

Reinforcements: The Griffins lineup received a boost following the Red Wings’ elimination from the playoffs by Chicago. Prior to Game 4 in Oklahoma City, Detroit assigned forwards Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist to Grand Rapids, and the pair made an immediate impact when Nyquist assisted on Andersson’s game-opening goal in their series debut on June 1. Andersson also picked up a pair of assists the following night in Game 5. In the first two games since the pair returned, Grand Rapids went 3-for-6 on the power play. Over the series’ first three games, the Griffins were 0-for-9. Additionally, the Red Wings assigned defenseman Danny DeKeyser on June 3. A two-time NCAA Second Team All-American and CCHA Best Defensive Defenseman with Western Michigan University, DeKeyser made the jump directly to the NHL, appearing in 11 regular season and two playoff games with Detroit before breaking his thumb. DeKeyser is expected to be in the lineup for Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals.

Working 9-5: The Griffins the only playoff team (along with their first round opponent, Houston) to have not played an overtime game, with 18 straight playoff games decided in regulation. The Griffins are 10-8 in playoff overtimes overall, with a 5-7 mark at Van Andel Arena and a 5-1 mark away from home. They are 6-7 in single overtime, 3-0 in double overtime and 1-1 in triple overtime, with their lone win in that category coming April 21, 2006 in Game 1 of the North Division Semifinals against Toronto. They are the first team to reach the Calder Cup Finals without playing an overtime game since Milwaukee in 2006.

Paying Dividends: When the Griffins signed defenseman Nick Jensen to an amateur tryout on May 13, they added the seventh and final member of the Red Wings’ 2009 draft class. The addition of Detroit’s fifth-round pick (150th overall) marks the first time that every member of a Detroit draft class has come through Grand Rapids. All seven are currently on the Griffins’ roster, including Landon Ferraro (32nd overall), Tomas Tatar (60th), Andrej Nestrasil (75th), Gleason Fournier (90th), Mitch Callahan (180th) and Adam Almquist (210th) – a group that has combined for 22 of the team’s 58 playoff goals. Previously, the closest the teams came to having every member of a draft class join the Griffins was 2006, when Cory Emmerton (41st), Dick Axelsson (62nd), Daniel Larsson (92nd), Jan Mursak (182nd), Nick Oslund (191st) and Logan Pyett (212nd) all skated with the team at various times, but Shawn Matthias (47th) was traded to Florida by Detroit for Todd Bertuzzi prior to turning pro in 2008-09.

All-Time Leaders: Several Griffins are climbing up the list of the franchise’s all-time playoff scoring leaders. Tomas Tatar leads the team with 16 points (11-5—16), which ties for 11th all time. Jan Mursak (8-7—15) and Francis Pare (4-11—15) are tied for 14th. Other members in the top 40 include Tomas Jurco (T16th), Luke Glendening (T16th), Landon Ferraro (T21st), Chad Billins (T21st), Riley Sheahan (T21st), Adam Almquist (T28th), Nathan Paetsch (T32nd), Jeff Hoggan (T40th) and Joakim Andersson (T40th). Petr Mrazek ranks among franchise goaltending leaders with 18 games played (3rd), 11 wins (2nd), a 2.18 goals against average (6th), a 0.921 save percentage (5th) and four shutouts (1st). Additionally, Mursak owns a share of two franchise records for the highest plus-minute in a single playoff (plus-nine, tying Philippe Plante and Peter Schastlivy, 2000) and a career (plus-14, tying Ivan Ciernik).

Playoff Facts and Figures: With a Game 5 victory over Houston and a Game 7 victory over Oklahoma City, the Griffins are now 3-4 in “winner-take-all” scenarios…The Griffins have won 11 of their 21 total playoff series and are 56-54 in the postseason all time …The conference finals series against Oklahoma City marked the first time the Griffins had won a series when trailing 2-1…The Game 7 victory over the Barons improved the Griffins to 8-10 when facing elimination (5-5 at home) and 11-13 when their opponent is facing elimination (4-9 at home)…The Griffins have never lost a series (6-0) when winning Game 1; the team that wins Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals wins the series 75 percent of the time (57 of 76 times).

Light the Lamp: With his team-leading 11th goal of the playoffs in Game 7 versus Oklahoma City, Tomas Tatar moved into a tie for the most goals by a Griffin in a single playoff year. Tatar has accomplished the feat in 18 games – one more than it took Kevin Miller to do so in 2000. The goal also pushed Tatar out of a tie with Stacy Roest (2003) for the most playoff goals by a Griffin in the franchise’s AHL era.

Who’s the Favorite?: The Griffins’ series win over the Marlies in the Western Conference Semifinals marked only the second time ever that Grand Rapids won a playoff series as the lower seed, the first time coming against Hamilton in the 2009 North Division Semifinals. The Griffins will now meet a fellow third-seed in Syracuse, but the Crunch have home-ice advantage after picking up five more points in the regular season.

Short Order: The Griffins’ lone goal in their 4-1 loss to Houston in Game 4 came off the stick of Luke Glendening, who became the eighth player in franchise history to record a shorthanded goal in the postseason. The Grand Rapids, Mich., native joined a group that includes Jakub Kindl (2009), Matt Ellis (2007), Hugo Boisvert (2003), Stacy Roest (2003), Sean Gagnon (2001), Derek King (2001) and Yves Sarault (2000) as the only rookie to do so. Grand Rapids scored 11 shorthanded goals in the regular season, tying for fourth in the AHL. Landon Ferraro, who led the AHL with seven regular season shorthanded points, and Mitch Callahan have increased that list to 10 with shorthanded goals in the last two rounds.

Playoff Promotions: In celebration of the team’s return to the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Griffins are offering $2 beers and $2 hot dogs for all home playoff games, including Fridays, from the time doors open until one hour after the start of the game, as well as “Free Ride to the Playoffs,” allowing fans to ride The Rapid busses to and from any postseason game with complimentary fare by showing their ticket to the game. Fans can also purchase a Playoff 4-Pack to receive four or more tickets to a playoff game of their choice and save $3 off of day-of-game pricing per ticket at

Get Your Tickets: Tickets for the Griffins’ three potential home games this round – Game K (series Game 3), Game L and Game M – are now on sale at Fans can also purchase a “Hat Trick Pack” and enjoy the same seat for all three Calder Cup Finals games at Van Andel Arena to enjoy $3 off the game day price (plus no service fees) and receive a free Griffins BBQ grill set by visiting

Western Conference Finals vs. Oklahoma City

Series Summary: After splitting the first two games of the series in Grand Rapids, the Griffins fell behind in the series 2-1 – a deficit they had never come back to win a series from – after a 4-1 win by the Barons in Game 3. The Griffins’ lineup was bolstered by the additions of Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist, fresh off NHL recalls and two seven-game series with the Red Wings. The duo made an immediate impact on the lineup, helping the Griffin score 15 goals over the series’ final four games (after only five in the first three) and rejuvenating a power play that started the series 0-for-9 by finishing 6-for-14. A series that was tied 1-1, 2-2- and 3-3 fittingly ended in a Game 7 that was tied at one, two, three and four before Tomas Jurco’s unassisted breakaway goal gave the Griffins the lead for good and helped them capture the Western Conference championship. Chad Billins paced the Griffins with six points (1-5—6) during the series, while four players – Jurco, Tomas Tatar, Mitch Callahan and Jan Mursak – shared the team lead with three goals.

Mr. Clutch: Tomas Jurco’s goal to help Grand Rapids to a 5-4 win in Game 7 was his third game-winning goal of the postseason, which ties for the AHL lead. Only Syracuse’s Tyler Johnson and Toronto’s Will Acton have as many headed into the Calder Cup Finals. Jurco also tallied game winners in Game 2 at Houston (April 28) and Game 5 at Oklahoma City (June 2). The franchise record for game-winning goals in a single playoff is held by Stacy Roest, who tallied five during the team’s postseason run in 2003.

Quick Stat: Petr Mrazek became the 15th goalie in AHL history to record back-to-back shutouts twice in the same postseason with 4-0 and 3-0 wins over Oklahoma City on June 1 and 2, just the fourth to do so on the road, joining Connecticut’s Cameron Talbot (2012), Norfolk’s Michael Leighton (2004) and Rochester’s Bobby Perreault (1957).

Feels Like the First Time: Griffins defenseman Brennan Evans picked a good time to score his first goal with the club, as he opened the scoring of the Western Conference Finals with a long shot that fooled Yann Danis. It marked Evans’ 88th game with the Griffins, as he appeared in all 76 regular season games and has appeared in every playoff game. Evans’ last goal came as a member of Peoria on Feb. 21, 2012 versus Abbotsford, spanning 109 games.

Crunch vs. Penguins: Syracuse suffered its only loss of the postseason through the first three rounds in Game 1 of this series, as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rode a pair of power play goals to a 4-2 victory…Dan Sexton (2-3—5), Ondrej Palat (1-4—5) and Mark Barberio (0-5—5) led the series with five points…Crunch netminder Cedrick Desjardins posted his best numbers of the postseason with two shutouts, a 1.62 goals against average and a 0.927 save percentage…Syracuse finished the series with a 7-0 win on June 1, matching a pair of 7-0 wins by the Griffins (May 4 vs. Houston and May 10 at Toronto) and an 8-1 win by Oklahoma City over Charlotte on May 3 as the biggest winning margin in the postseason…Philippe Paradis, who scored just one regular season goal in 44 games between Rockford and Syracuse, notched a hat trick in the Crunch’s series-clinching win over the Penguins.

Western Conference Semifinals vs. Toronto

Series Summary: The Griffins opened the series with a convincing 7-0 victory, but the Marlies evened it heading back to Grand Rapids with a 4-2 win on home ice. The Griffins took the first two games at Van Andel Arena but missed out on a chance to eliminate the defending Western Conference champions with a 4-1 loss in Game 5. Back in Toronto, the Marlies jumped out to a 3-1 lead leading into the third period with the possibility of extending the series to seven games, but Jan Mursak and Tomas Tatar struck for goals in a 28-second span to tie the game before Luke Glendening added the series-clinching goal with 4:03 to play to give the Griffins a 4-3 win. Tatar’s goal was his fifth of the series, giving him a team-best seven points (5-2—7) in six games. Mursak (4-1—5), Glendening (3-2—5), Tomas Jurco (2-3—5) and Francis Pare (1-4—5) also paced the team offensively with five points apiece.

Lucky Sevens: With back-to-back 7-0 victories over Houston in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals and over Toronto in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Griffins became the first team in AHL history to record back-to-back playoff shutouts while scoring at least seven goals in both.

Statement Delivered: Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals turned out to be the Griffins’ most dominant performance in a road playoff game in nearly 13 years, as Grand Rapids skated to its second consecutive 7-0 victory in the series opener against Toronto. Prior to the two victories, the Griffins had enjoyed only one road playoff win in their history by a margin of more than three goals, a 10-1 win at Cincinnati in Game 3 of the IHL’s Eastern Conference Finals (March 19, 2000). In addition, Petr Mrazek stopped 25 shots for a second straight shutout, becoming the first Griffins netminder to record two playoff shutouts and backstopping the team to its first-ever shutout win in Game 1 of a series. The Griffins lost Game 2, but Mrazek extended his shutout streak to 178:58, dating back to May 3.

Crunch vs. Falcons: The Crunch upset the second-seeded Springfield Falcons in four games, scoring five goals in three of those contests…Tyler Johnson (5-3—8) and Ondrej Palat (1-7—8) paced the Crunch with an average of two points per game…Syracuse held Springfield to seven goals in the series, as Cedrick Desjardins posted one shutout, a 1.75 goals against average and a 0.936 save percentage…Johnson’s four points (3-1—4) in Game 2 tied him for the AHL’s postseason high.

Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. Houston

Series Summary: The Griffins and Aeros split the first two games of the series, as Houston’s Darcy Kuemper starred with a 1.51 goals against average and a 0.957 save percentage. After he was called up to the parent Minnesota Wild, rookie Mike Condon, with just five career pro appearances leading into the series, took over in net for the Aeros and posted 35 saves in a 4-2 loss and 41 in a 4-1 win as the teams skated into a decisive Game 5. The Griffins’ offense came alive in Game 7, as four second-period goals broke open a tightly-contested game and paved the way for the Griffins to earn a spot in the second round with a 7-0 win.

History Will Be Made: The Griffins matched a 44-year old record during their 7-0 victory over Houston in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The win equaled the AHL’s largest margin of victory ever in a winner-take-all game, matching an 8-1 win by the Quebec Aces over the Providence Reds in the 1969 semifinals. Additionally, the seven-goal margin set Griffins records for largest in a playoff shutout and a home playoff game. The Griffins closed out Houston’s AHL tenure with its first series win since 2009. Petr Mrazek, who made 24 saves in the victory, became the first Griffins goalie in 10 years to record a playoff shutout (Marc Lamothe, May 2, 2003 at Chicago) and was the first rookie goaltender in franchise history to blank an opponent in the playoffs.

End of an Era: The Griffins had a long history with the Houston Aeros, one of just three active teams to have played against Grand Rapids in the IHL prior to joining the AHL in 2001-02. In 17 seasons, the Griffins showed a regular season record of 40-32-6-3-7 (W-L-T-OTL-SOL) against the Aeros, including a 21-16-2-1-4 mark at Van Andel Arena and 19-18-4-2-3 at the Toyota Center and Compaq Center. The Griffins’ 7-0 win in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals marked the final meeting between the clubs, as Houston will move to Des Moines next season to become the Iowa Wild.

Crunch vs. Pirates: Syracuse swept Portland in three games, two of which were decided in overtime…Ondrej Palat paced the Crunch with seven points (3-4—7) in three games, trailed closely by Tyler Johnson with six points (2-4—6)…Syracuse netminder Cedrick Desjardins was 3-0 with a 2.33 goals against average and a 0.884 save percentage…Richard Panik and Palat tallied the Crunch’s overtime markers.

Tale of the Tape: Here’s how the two clubs stacked up in key categories during the regular season:

  Grand Rapids Syracuse
Overall Record 42-26-4-4, 92 pts. (1st Midwest/7th AHL) 43-22-6-5, 97 pts. (1st East, 3rd AHL)
Home Record 21-12-3-2, 47 pts. (T9th) 19-12-4-3, 45 pts. (T14th)
Road Record 21-14-1-2, 45 pts. (T6th) 24-10-2-2, 52 pts. (2nd)
Power Play 60-for-325, 18.5% (T8th) 61-for-350, 17.4% (12th)
Penalty Killing 244-for-304, 80.3% (29th) 297-for-352, 84.4% (9th)
Penalty Minutes 16.04 avg. (16th) 21.21 avg. (3rd)
Goals For 3.08 avg. (T7th) 3.25 avg. (1st)
Goals Against 2.70 avg. (13th) 2.64 avg. (T10th)
Shots For 30.67 avg. (9th) 33.41 avg. (3rd)
Shots Against 27.86 avg. (T5th) 25.70 avg. (T1st)
Team Leaders    
Games Played Billins/Evans/Hoggan (76) J.T. Wyman (76)
Goals Landon Ferraro (24) Tyler Johnson (37)
Assists Gustav Nyquist (37) Ondrej Palat (39)
Points Nyquist (60) Johnson (65)
Plus/Minus Jan Mursak (+15) Radko Gudas (+32)
Penalty Minutes Triston Grant (196) Gudas (207)
Power Play Goals Nyquist (9) Johnson (12)
Shorthanded Goals Ferraro (3) Wyman/Mike Angelidis (2)
Game-Winning Goals Tomas Tatar/Joakim Andersson (5) Brett Connolly (8)
Wins Petr Mrazek (23) Dustin Tokarski (18)
Shutouts Tom McCollum (2) Riku Helenius (4)
Goals Against Avg. Mrazek (2.33) Cedrick Desjardins (2.12)
Save Percentage Mrazek (0.916) Desjardins (0.918)

Playoff Roster: The following 31 players are eligible to suit up for the Griffins in the postseason: goaltenders Tom McCollum, Petr Mrazek and Jordan Pearce; defensemen Adam Almquist, Chad Billins, Danny DeKeyser, Brennan Evans, Gleason Fournier, Nick Jensen, Brian Lashoff, Max Nicastro, Nathan Paetsch and Brett Skinner; and forwards Joakim Andersson, Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Willie Coetzee, Landon Ferraro, Luke Glendening, Triston Grant, Jeff Hoggan, Tomas Jurco, Jan Mursak, Andrej Nestrasil, Gustav Nyquist, Francis Pare, Trevor Parkes, Teemu Pulkkinen, Brent Raedeke, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. Nyquist, Andersson and Pearce were assigned to Grand Rapids by Detroit during the Western Conference Finals after the Red Wings’ elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by Chicago. Nyquist (2-3—5) and Andersson (1-4—5) each finished in a seventh-place tie on Detroit in postseason scoring.

Playoff Leaders: After playing an AHL-high 18 games during the first three rounds, the Griffins have many players who rank among the league’s top scorers. Tomas Tatar is tied for fourth in the league with 16 points (11-5—16), sitting second behind Oklahoma City’s Mark Arcobello (12) in goals. Tomas Jurco (7-6—13) and Luke Glendening (5-8—13) sit in an eighth-place tie and are second among rookies. Jan Mursak’s eight postseason goals tie for fourth in the league and his 12 points tie for 12th. Landon Ferraro (4-7—11), Chad Billins (2-9—11), Francis Pare (2-9—11) and Riley Sheahan (2-9—11) are among a group of players tied for 15th in postseason scoring. Billins also leads all defensemen and is tied with Sheahan for fourth among rookies. Syracuse’s offense revolves around Ondrej Palat, tied for the league lead with 20 points (5-15—20) and Tyler Johnson, who sits third with 17 points (9-8—17), as the only members of the team among the league’s top-20 scorers despite averaging an AHL-best four goals per game. Crunch goaltender Cedrick Desjardins ranks among the league’s top stoppers with 11 wins (T1st), a 1.86 goals against average (4th), 742:05 minutes (3rd), three shutouts (2nd) and a 0.920 save percentage (8th). Petr Mrazek owns 11 wins (T1st), a 2.18 goals against average (6th), 1073:35 minutes (1st), four shutouts (1st) and a 0.921 save percentage (7th).

Bench Bosses: Jeff Blashill led the Griffins back to the playoffs during his first season behind the team’s bench, helping the team to a 42-win season. He also became the sixth consecutive bench boss to win his first playoff series with the Griffins, a run that dates back to Guy Charron in the 2000 IHL Playoffs. Blashill previously led the USHL’s Indiana Ice to a Clark Cup championship in his first-ever season as a head coach at any level in 2009. He also led the CCHA’s Western Michigan Broncos to the CCHA championship game for the first time since 1986 in his lone season as the Broncos’ bench boss in 2011. He helped Detroit extend their postseason streak to 21 seasons as an assistant coach in 2011-12, but the Red Wings fell in five games to Nashville…Rob Zettler was named head coach of the Crunch after Jon Cooper was hired away by the parent Tampa Bay Lightning on March 25. Zettler guided Syracuse to a 4-4-3-0 regular season finish but an 11-1 run in the playoffs to advance to the Calder Cup Finals. This is Zettler’s first season as a head coach, having previously served as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs after retiring from the NHL in 2002. Zettler played 569 games during his NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars, San Jose, Philadelphia, Toronto, Nashville and Washington. He also has tied to West Michigan, made his professional debut with the IHL’s Kalamazoo Wings, recording 43 points (11-32—43) in 124 games with the team from 1987-91.

Welcome Return: This season marked several returns for the Griffins, including their first appearance in the postseason since 2008-09. Additionally, the team captured their first division title since 2005-06, when it finished first in the league. For capturing the Midwest Division crown, the Griffins earned the N.R. (Bud) Poile Trophy, an honor they earned as Western Conference champions in 2005-06 and, before that, as West Division champions in 2001-02. The 92 points accumulated by the Griffins were their seventh-highest total in their 17 seasons.

Major Leaguers: This series features 32 players who have spent time in the NHL, with 871 combined games of experience on Syracuse and 499 on Grand Rapids. The Crunch boast 18 players who have skated in the NHL: Brian Lee (209), Jean-Francois Jacques (166), Brendan Mikkelson (131), Dan Sexton (88), Brett Connolly (73), Matt Taormina (49), J.T. Wyman (44), Richard Panik (25), Radko Gudas (22), Tyler Johnson (14), Ondrej Palat (14), Jean-Philippe Cote (8), Evan Oberg (7), Mike Angelidis (7), Cedrick Desjardins (5), J.T. Brown (5), Mark Barberio (2) and Andrej Sustr (2). The Griffins have 14 players who have skated in the NHL: Nathan Paetsch (167), Jeff Hoggan (107), Jan Mursak (46), Joakim Andersson (43), Gustav Nyquist (40), Brian Lashoff (31), Tomas Tatar (27), Danny DeKeyser (11), Brett Skinner (11), Triston Grant (11), Petr Mrazek (2), Riley Sheahan (2), Tom McCollum (1) and Brennan Evans, whose only NHL experience came in the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Crunch Regular Season Notes: Tyler Johnson led the AHL in goals (37) and finished eighth overall in scoring (37-28—65) en route to capturing MVP honors. Johnson is the sixth straight MVP to compete in the Calder Cup Finals; the previous five all won the championship…Crunch forward Brett Connolly tied for third in the league with 31 goals and finished ninth with 63 points…Four of the league’s best five plus-minus ratings came from Syracuse: Radko Gudas (1st, plus-32), Jean-Philippe Cote (3rd, plus-27), Ondrej Palat (T4th, plus-26) and Johnson (T4th, plus-26)…Mark Barberio finished sixth among defensemen with 42 points (8-34—42)…Syracuse was the third-most penalized team during the regular season, averaging 21.21 penalty minutes per game and drawing a league-high 1,637 minutes…The Crunch boasted the AHL’s best offense at 3.25 goals per game and finished with the 10th-best defense at 2.64 goals against per game…Syracuse surrendered an average of 25.7 shots per game, tying for the lowest in the league, while averaging the third-most at 33.41…The Crunch were the AHL’s second-best road team at 24-10-2-2, trailing Texas (54) by just two points…Syracuse was 35-3-4-2 (0.864) when scoring first in the regular season…The Crunch are undefeated in the playoffs on the road (5-0) and when scoring first (8-0).

Connect the Dots: Nathan Paetsch is the lone bridge between the two teams, having played 34 games for the Crunch in 2010-11…Brennan Evans and Crunch defenseman Brendan Mikkelson were teammates with the Iowa Chops in 2008-09 and Toronto Marlies in 2009-10…Syracuse netminder Pat Nagle only appeared in one game with the team during the regular season, but he hails from Bloomfield, Mich., and was a teammate of Chad Billins at Ferris State from 2008-11…Crunch defensemen Matt Taormina (Washington Township) and Jared Nightingale (Cheboygan) also hail from Michigan; Nightingale played four seasons (2002-06) at Michigan State…Syracuse’s Vladislav Namestnikov was born in Russia but spent part of his childhood in Michigan, and he is the nephew of former Red Wing Slava Kozlov…The Griffins have two New York natives in Brian Lashoff (Albany) and Tom McCollum (Sanborn).

Experience Counts: Only nine players on the Griffins roster had AHL postseason experience prior to the team’s first round playoff series against Houston. In addition to the four players who skated during the 2009 Calder Cup Playoff run (Joakim Andersson, Brian Lashoff, Jan Mursak and Francis Pare), Brennan Evans (0-1—1 in 14 GP), Triston Grant (1-5—6 in 35 GP), Jeff Hoggan (8-10—18 in 38 GP), Nathan Paetsch (2-2—4 in 25 GP) and Brett Skinner (0-8—8 in 28 GP) had previous playoff experience at this level. Nine players have professional postseason experience at other levels: Adam Almquist (1-11—12 in 21 GP, Sweden), Andersson (2-3—5 in 22 GP, Sweden), Evans (2 GP, NHL), Hoggan (2 GP, Germany), Gustav Nyquist (4 GP, NHL), Paetsch (1 GP, NHL; 2 GP, Germany), Teemu Pulkkinen (2-5—7 in 13 GP, Finland), Skinner (6 GP, Sweden) and Tomas Tatar (5-3—8 in 13 GP, Slovakia). The Griffins also have five players who recently saw ECHL playoff action with the Toledo Walleye: Willie Coetzee, Andrej Nestrasil, Max Nicastro, Trevor Parkes and Jordan Pearce.

Oh Captain, My Captain
: One of the hottest Griffins over the second half of the season was captain and former Calder Cup-winner Jeff Hoggan. After recording 14 points (5-9—14) in the team’s first 38 games – leading up to the NHL season starting on Jan. 19 – Hoggan rattled off 31 points (15-16—31) in the final 38 games, including 14 (7-7—14) over the team’s final 14 contests (March 22-April 21). It marked the fourth time in his 11 years as a pro that he reached the 20-goal plateau, as he finished fourth on the team with 45 points (20-25—45) in 76 games. Hoggan also boasts the most AHL playoff experience on the team at 56 games.

It’s Been Awhile: The Griffins now have all four of the players on their postseason roster who were on the team when they last made the playoffs in 2009. One of those players was with the parent Red Wings as of the start of the third round in Joakim Andersson, who skated for Grand Rapids on an amateur tryout during that postseason before joining the team full-time in 2010-11. Brian Lashoff rejoined the Griffins for Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals to give the team three players remaining from the playoff run in 2009, along with Jan Mursak and Francis Pare.

Tell Me What It Takes: The Griffins’ quest to capture the Calder Cup is headlined by a handful of players who have won championships in their careers, starting with captain Jeff Hoggan, the team’s lone Calder Cup champion with Houston in 2003. Two of the team’s rookies enjoyed championships seasons last year: Chad Billins, who helped Ferris State capture the CCHA regular season championship en route to an appearance in the NCAA national title game, and Tomas Jurco, who won his second straight QMJHL President’s Cup with Saint John last spring after winning the CHL Memorial Cup in 2011. Brennan Evans joins Jurco as the team’s other Memorial Cup winner, winning the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup and Memorial Cup in 2002 with the Kootenay Ice. Brett Skinner won back-to-back NCAA championships with Denver as a sophomore and junior in 2004 and 2005. Other cup winners include Mitch Callahan (WHL Chynoweth Cup – 2009 Kelowna) and Adam Almquist (SEL Championship – 2010 HV 71), as well as both of the team’s coaches: Jim Paek (Stanley Cup – 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh, IHL Turner Cup – 1989 Muskegon and 1999 Houston) and Jeff Blashill (USHL Clark Cup – 2009 in his debut season as a head coach).

In the Show: Nineteen former Griffins have appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. Notably, Gustav Nyquist, a member of the 2013 AHL First All-Star Team, made history in Detroit’s first-round playoff series against Anaheim as the first rookie in NHL history to record his first two playoff points in overtime. He also became the first rookie in Red Wings history to register two overtime points in one playoff year. Nyquist scored the overtime winner in Game 2 against Anaheim on May 2 and assisted on Damien Brunner’s winner (along with Joakim Andersson) to knot the series at two on May 6. After Detroit’s elimination by Chicago, only two former Griffins remain in the chase for the Stanley Cup – Boston’s Chris Kelly and Chicago’s Sheldon Brookbank. (Stats through NHL playoff games of June 7).

Player NHL Club GP G A PTS +/- PIM
Valtteri Filppula Detroit 14 2 4 6 -4 4
Gustav Nyquist Detroit 14 2 3 5 3 2
Brendan Smith Detroit 14 2 3 5 -3 10
Jakub Kindl Detroit 14 1 4 5 4 10
Joakim Andersson Detroit 14 1 4 5 2 10
Chris Neil Ottawa 10 0 4 4 0 39
Justin Abdelkader Detroit 12 2 1 3 4 33
Mark Eaton Pittsburgh 8 0 3 3 2 0
Jonathan Ericsson Detroit 14 0 3 3 2 0
Kyle Quincey Detroit 14 0 2 2 -3 12
Niklas Kronwall Detroit 14 0 2 2 -1 4
Jason Spezza
Ottawa 3 0 1 1 -1 0
Carlo Colaiacovo Detroit 9 0 1 1 3 2
Cory Emmerton Detroit 13 0 1 1 -2 4
Sheldon Brookbank Chicago 1 0 0 0 -2 0
Brian Lashoff Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 0
Kris Newbury NY Rangers 3 0 0 0 -1 2
Chris Kelly Boston 16 0 0 0 -6 15


Jimmy Howard Detroit 14 7 7 1 2.44 0.924


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