The Grand Rapids Griffins face the Syracuse Crunch in the Calder Cup Final, a rematch of the 2013 Calder Cup Final.
The Crunch look to get revenge for the loss in 2013, while the Griffins hope to win their second Calder Cup title in five years. The Crunch haven’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since that 2013 loss, while the Griffins have reached at least the second round each of the past five seasons.
Let’s take a look at the matchup that begins Friday at Grand Rapids:
Game 1: Fri., June 2, Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Sat., June 3, Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Wed., June 7, Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Fri., June 9, Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
*Game 5: Sat., June 10, Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
*Game 6: Tue., June 13, Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.
*Game 7: Wed., June 14, Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.
* if necessary
How Did We Get Here?
- The Griffins swept the Milwaukee Admirals 3-0 in the opening round.
- The Crunch lost the opening game to the St John’s IceCaps but rattled off three straight wins to clinch a berth in the North Division final.
- The Griffins beat the Chicago Wolves, who finished the regular season one point ahead of the Griffins and won the Central Division, 4-1. Grand Rapids won three straight games after Chicago tied the series at 1-1, winning two of those games in Chicago.
- The Crunch needed all seven games to beat the Toronto Marlies, who finished one point behind the Crunch in the regular-season standings. Syracuse won the first two games, lost the next two and won Games 5 and 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
- The Griffins continued their dominance during the playoffs, beating the San Jose Baracuda in five games. Grand Rapids allowed more than two goals once in the five games.
- The Crunch also needed just five games to beat the Providence Bruins. After losing Game 2, Syracuse won three straight games to clinch a berth in the Calder Cup Final. The Crunch averaged 4.4 goals per game during the Eastern Conference final.
- Ben Street and Eric Tangradi lead the team and are tied for sixth in the AHL with 15 points in 13 games. Street has four goals and 11 assists, and Tangradi has two goals and 13 assists.
- Street collected seven of his 15 points in the Western Conference Final against San Jose.
- Cory Conacher leads the AHL with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 16 games. Yanni Gourde (five goals, 12 assists) and Matt Taormina (four goals, 12 assists) are third and fifth, respectively, in scoring.
- Conacher, who has played 152 career NHL games, scored five goals and added six assists in the Eastern Conference Final.
Between the Pipes
- The Griffins’ Jared Coreau had a big bounce-back series against the Barracuda, allowing 10 goals in five games with a .940 save percentage. He now has a .922 save percentage, which leads the AHL for all goalies who have played at least 10 games.
- The Crunch’s Mike McKenna had a rough outing against the Marlies in Round 2 with a .877 save percentage. He also bounced back in the third round, with a save percentage of .932 and now has a .912 save percentage for the playoffs, trailing only Coreau.
McKenna on the Finals: “We’ve had some time to do some homework and get ready, but I think we’re just really excited to get going." pic.twitter.com/QHNVi7csOs
— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) June 1, 2017
- This is the first time the teams have met since the 2013 Calder Cup Final, which the Griffins won in six games.
Griffins’ High-Powered Power Play
- The Griffins, who held the top power-play unit in the regular season, continue to be deadly on the power play, as they went six for 22 in the Western Conference final against San Jose and sport the league’s best PP percentage at 24.1.
- Syracuse struggled on the penalty kill in the second round but allowed just two power-play goals in five games against Providence. The Crunch are seventh in the league with a 79.7 percent penalty-kill success rate for all teams who have played at least 10 games.
The Griffins continue to plow their way through the Calder Cup playoffs, losing just two games and sporting a plus-20 goal differential. The Griffins have not lost at home this postseason, winning all seven games. However, the Crunch have the ability to score as well, averaging 3.75 goals per game with a plus-20 goal differential.
The Griffins took too many penalties for their liking during the Western Conference final, taking 23 in five games. The Crunch haven’t been great on the power play (16.9 percent during the playoffs), but staying out of the box will be key for Grand Rapids.
Like Grand Rapids, Syracuse is perfect at home during the playoffs. With a 2-3-2 series format, the Crunch will have three straight home games, which could swing momentum their way if they lose the first two games. In fact, Griffins coach Todd Nelson told MLive.com’s Peter Wallner that he thinks the 2-3-2 format favors the lower seed.
Like I said last series, I think the two-three-two favors the lower seed. They face less pressure. You start on the road for one thing and if you can get one (win) then you have home-ice advantage. You saw what happened last series.
Should the teams split the first two games in Grand Rapids, the Crunch will have a nice opportunity to take advantage of the home ice, much like the Griffins did against San Jose.
On paper, the Griffins look better in nearly every statistical category, averaging more goals per game and sporting better power-play and penalty-kill percentages.
If the Griffins continue to dominate on the power play and get a solid performance from Coreau, they’ll be well on their way to a second Calder Cup trophy.
Prediction: Griffins win series, 4-2
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.