Syracuse Crunch, Grand Rapids Griffins Reach Calder Cup Finals For 2nd Time
Four years after the Griffins defeated the Crunch in six games for the AHL championship, each team holds a new look heading into Friday night's series opener at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Iowa. Defenseman of the Year nominee Matt Taormina is the only recurring player for Syracuse, while Grand Rapids has Nathan Paetsch, Mitch Callahan, Louis-Marc Aubry, and Brian Lashoff each returning from the 2013 clash.
Syracuse is the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Grand Rapids is the affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. Both NHL teams failed to reach expectations in 2016-17. Tampa Bay was considered a strong Stanley Cup contender but missed the playoffs, while Detroit also failed to reach the postseason for the first time in 25 years.
The successful campaigns of the affiliate teams are a display of the depth in each organization and their paths back to the playoffs.
Road to the FinalsGrand Rapids finished as the No. 2 seed in the Central Division and is in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. The Griffins swept the Milwaukee Admirals 3-0 in the first round, defeated Central Division champions Chicago Wolves 4-1 in the second round, and beat the San Jose Barracuda 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals.
Syracuse won the North Division and faced the St. John's Ice Caps in the first round, winning 3-1 in the best-of-five series. The team then defeated the Toronto Marlies in seven games and bested the Providence Bruins 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Griffins will hold home-ice advantage and are 7-0 at home this postseason with two road losses. The team went 25-11-0-2 at Van Andel Arena and 22-12-1-3 on the road during the regular season.
The Crunch are 9-0 at home during the playoffs but also have five road losses. They went 23-9-2-4 at War Memorial Arena and 15-15-5-3 on the road.
The two finalists did not meet during the regular season.
Special TeamsThe Griffins' power play and penalty kill have both been superior to the Crunch this postseason. Grand Rapids has capitalized 14 times in 58 power-play opportunities (24.1 percent), leading all postseason teams in power-play goals and percentage.
Syracuse's power play is operating at 16.9 percent, with 10 power-play goals in 59 opportunities, eighth among all 16 playoff teams.
On the penalty kill, the Griffins are killing off 86.2 percent of penalties taken, allowing just eight goals on 58 opportunities. The Griffins' penalty kill is seventh among all postseason teams but third among those that have taken at least 20 penalties in the playoffs.
The Crunch are killing just 79.7 percent of penalties, allowing 13 goals on 64 power plays against, but have also scored four shorthanded goals, which leads all playoff teams.
Key PlayersLeading up to the Western Conference Finals, Grand Rapids forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and rookie Evgeny Svechnikov led the team. San Jose did a good job of keeping Bertuzzi and Svechnikov in check, but depth broke through with a strong series from Ben Street and Eric Tangradi, who combined for three goals and 14 points in the five-game series.
Matt Ford, Tomas Nosek, and Matt Lorito each scored three goals, as well, while the heavy-hitting Mitch Callahan chipped in two goals and two assists.
During Syracuse's Eastern Conference Finals series against Providence, Cory Conacher overtook the scoring race for the postseason. The small-bodied winger leads the playoffs with nine goals and 20 points through 16 games.
Yanni Gourde, who displayed an ability to rise to the occasion during a short stint with the Lightning late in the season, sits second on the team with 17 points in 16 games.
Taormina, the aforementioned nominee for AHL Defenseman of the Year, leads all defensemen in postseason scoring with four goals and 16 points in 16 games. Grand Rapids highest-scoring defenseman is rookie Joe Hicketts, with a goal and four assists through 13 games.
The Crunch also announced the additions of Taylor Raddysh and Anthony Cirelli, who could be more than black aces during Syracuse's pursuit of its first Calder Cup.
Raddysh and Cirelli won the 2017 OHL Championship together with the Erie Otters. The pair of forwards then lost to the Windsor Spitfires for the 2017 Memorial Cup over the weekend.
GoaltendingJared Coreau has played all 13 games for the Griffins this postseason and holds an 11-2 record with a .922 save percentage and 2.41 goals-against average. Coreau, 25, went 19-11-3 during the regular season, spending a chunk of the season with the Red Wings after an injury to Jimmy Howard.
During those 33 games, Coreau held a 9.17 SV% and 2.33 GAA with two shutouts.
His opposition, 34-year-old Mike McKenna, is behind him with a .912 SV% and 2.51 GAA during his 11-5 record. McKenna has bounced around the AHL during his career. Syracuse acquired the veteran goalie in March from the Springfield Thunderbirds.
McKenna held a 9-10-7 record during his time with Springfield with a .907 SV%, 2.83 GAA, and a shutout. In 14 regular season games with Syracuse, McKenna went 5-5-3-1 and posted a .901 SV% and 2.87 GAA.
Schedule and PredictionThe Calder Cup Finals begin this weekend, with all games starting at 7 PM EST. Here is the schedule for the best-of-seven series.
Friday, June 2
Game 1: at Grand Rapids
Saturday, June 3
Game 2: at Grand Rapids
Wednesday, June 7
Game 3: at Syracuse
Friday, June 9
Game 4: at Syracuse
Saturday, June 10
Game 5: at Syracuse (if necessary)
Tuesday, June 13
Game 6: at Grand Rapids (if necessary)
Wednesday, June 14
Game 7: at Grand Rapids (if necessary)
Official prediction: The Griffins' experience and depth will overwhelm the Crunch. Grand Rapids in six.
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