By Pat Evans –
GRAND RAPIDS – Thanks to a stellar performance by the line of Luke Glendening, Jeff Hoggan and Jan Mursak, the Griffins picked up a 4-2 win Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, giving them a 3-0 series lead in the Calder Cup Final against the Syracuse Crunch.
All three members of the Griffins’ line scored in the Game 3 victory.
But it takes four games to win the Calder Cup, and Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill won’t let his team forget it.
“After Game 2 I said, ‘That’s two,’ and after game three I said, ‘That’s three.’ Period,” Blashill said. “You gotta win four to win the series and series aren’t won with three wins their won with four.”
Still, the Griffins will head into Friday’s game up 3-0 with two chances to cap the series off at home in Van Andel Arena.
The game started off tough for Grand Rapids with a hard hit leaving defenseman Adam Almquist unable to get up, and allowing the Crunch to take the early lead with a goal from Richard Panik.
Almquist sat out the rest of the game with an injury.
“I don’t know (Almquist’s) status,” Blashill said. “I know he wasn’t goning to finish the game. It taxes your D to have five in the (rotation). I thought the five did a great job, led by Nathan Paestch.”
Despite being down one man on the blue line, the defense wasn’t fazed by an added workload. The forwards also helped by getting back quickly and helping down low, Paestch said.
“All these guys have played a lot of minutes in their careers,” Paestch said. “They were all superstars growing up, so they know how to play the big minutes. Everyone wants to play.”
Early in the second period, Grand Rapids forward Tomas Tatar evened the game as he wrapped around the net and pushed the puck past Syracuse goalie Cedrick Desjardins’ pads. The goal was Tatar’s 13th of the postseason, which is good for the league lead in the playoffs.
Less than three minutes later Glendening gave the Griffins the 2-1 lead when he slapped in a loose puck in front of an open net on a rebound.
Syracuse’s Dan Sexton fired a long wrister from the blueline that some how found its way past Grand Rapids goalie Petr Mrazek to tie the game halfway through the second period.
The game played extremely evenly through the whole thing, much like the rest of series,” Blashill said. “I thought it was a lot like the rest of the games of the series, both teams had chances,” he said. “We probably made one more play than they did in the end. But it was an extremely hard fought game.”
A few close chances could have given the Griffins the lead as Tomas Jurco and Gustav Nyquist both were stopped by Desjardins on breakaways in the third.
With less than five minutes to go, Hoggan came around the net and fired a shot toward the net. The puck hit off Mursak’s skate and past Desjardins.
“Our line has been working down low in the corners and tried to get around the net,” Hoggan said. “He was there fighting for it, hit his skate went in. That’s where he’s supposed to be.”
Hoggan added a little insurance himself with 2:28 left to play as he took a turnover and beat Desjardins top-shelf.
“Glendening, Hoggan and Mursak were great for us tonight,” Blashill said. “Overall in the playoffs they’ve been great. They’re north-south players and get pucks behind the net.”
The Griffins were helped along by a crowd of 10,102, the largest in the franchise’s AHL playoff history.
Friday’s game is already sold out, with 10,834 fans slated to be in attendance. Hoggan said the crowd was electric, but the team has to remember not to perform for the crowd, but to stick to its process, especially being up 3-0.
“It feels really good,” he said. “(We’re) not quite done yet, being up 2-0 we took it game-by-game and we’ll take the same approach here.”