After allowing seven goals in a 7-3 loss to the Chicago Wolves on Friday, Grand Rapids Griffins coach Todd Nelson said his team was deflated.
“That’s a good thing,” Nelson told The Hockey Writers. “I talked to the guys before (Saturday’s) game. ‘We got sloppy last night.’ That’s how we bounce back. We bounced back great.”
The Griffins chased Wolves goalie Ville Husso in the first period after scoring their third goal on their ninth shot during a 4-2 win Saturday in Game 3 of the Central Division finals at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins lead the best-of-seven series 2-1; Game 4 is Monday at Van Andel Arena.
Coming into Friday’s game, the Griffins were on a seven-game winning streak, having won the final three games of the regular season and their first four games of the playoffs. Nelson commented on the similarities between Friday and Saturday’s games, as the Wolves held the 3-0 lead after one period Friday.
“Both games kind of mirrored each other,” Nelson said. “(Friday night), Chicago got off to a great start; we’re down 3-0. Same thing happened (Saturday), but (Saturday), we’re on the right side. I thought everybody competed a lot harder, and that was the difference.”
Griffins’ Fast Start
The Griffins scored three goals in the first 10:30 of the game, with the second and third goals coming within 30 seconds of each other.
“We didn’t come up to their level, and it showed on the scoreboard,” Tyler Bertuzzi said of Friday’s game. “We came back (Saturday) and played a really good game for 60 minutes.”
Matthew Ford notched his fourth goal of the playoffs after a scramble in front of the net led to a loose puck and a wide-open net for Ford to put the Griffins up 1-0 at the 5:09 mark. About five minutes later, on a two-on-one break, Mitch Callahan fed Ben Street, who wristed a shot past Husso for his second of the postseason. Just 30 seconds later, Bertuzzi collected a loose puck after a net-front scramble and knocked in his third of the playoffs, extending his playoff point streak to six games, to give the Griffins a 3-0 lead midway through the first period.
Tyler Bertuzzi has extended his playoff point streak to six, tying for the franchise's longest in a single postseason since 2006 #GoGRG
— Griffins Game Day (@GriffinsGameDay) May 7, 2017
“I think we came out strong,” Eric Tangradi said. “We played well in Game 1, I think we got a little full of ourselves in Game 2, and they dominated the pace. I think it was important for us to get out to a good start, especially at home. I think we were proud of our first period.”
Jared Coreau, who gave up seven goals on 31 shots in Friday’s loss, looked a lot sharper Saturday, making 27 saves.
Nelson said the ups and downs he faced in the NHL helped him rebound in Game 3.
“I think the adversity that he faced in the National Hockey League helps,” Nelson said. “He went up there and had some good games; some games didn’t go his way. The experience that he gains to go up to the National Hockey League is going to help him through this playoff run.”
Nelson said he didn’t speak with Coreau after Friday’s game but noted he was pleased to see the 25-year-old rebound one night later.
“I never said a word to him,” Nelson said. “I let our goalie coach Brian Mahoney-Wilson deal with that. I talked to Brian what we’re doing moving forward, but I never talked to (Coreau).
“I thought he was good (Saturday). He fought through traffic really well — thought his glove was great. He saved some goals for us, coming across using his glove. He played well.”
Coreau agreed with Nelson that his stint with the Detroit Red Wings has helped him during this postseason run.
“Certainly, just the speed of the game, it’s slowed it down for me a little bit down here, and also playing the puck,” Coreau said. “Up there, you’re expected to make good plays when you do play the puck. So, I think it brought the best out in me and working on it in practice and trying to get better at that every single day.”
The Wolves showed some life in the third period, scoring two goals within 2:30 of each other, to cut the deficit to 3-2. However, 16 seconds later, Joe Hicketts’ wrister from the point snuck past Jordan Binnington for his first goal of the postseason to give the Griffins a 4-2 lead.
“It was big,” Hicketts said. “The faceoff, it was a great job by (Dominic Turgeon) winning it and tying the guys up. We were able to get some O-zone time, and I just kinda threw it at the net. I didn’t see where it was going, and I guess it just bounced in.”
Saturday’s attendance of 8,764 at Van Andel was the largest crowd since Game 4 of the 2015 Western Conference finals.
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.