Falling in a decisive fashion to Manitoba, the Griffins now trail the Calder Cup Playoff series 2-1. Game three held a few breaths of excitement for Grand Rapids. The Moose however, quickly squelched the Griffins attempts to claim their first 2018 playoff home ice win. A few bursts of offensive pressure unfortunately left the home team wanting. Manitoba drained the 7,000+ fans of life; kind of like sitting on a whoopee cushion. The Griffs, drug their defeat back to the locker room in hopes of coming back for revenge in game four.
The Cholowski Affect
No doubt the big news was the arrival of star defenseman, Dennis Cholowski. Fresh out of a WHL playoff run, the Detroit Red Wings 2016 draft pick was heavily promoted coming into game three, even drawing the presence of Red Wings suits, Jeff Blashill and Ken Holland. Having 7 points in his 12 playoff games with the Portland Winterhawks, the soft-spoken defenseman was causing a stir. Though he didn’t earn any points tonight and only had one shot on goal, Cholo definitely left an impression. He made a few solid plays and given the time he had on the ice, made the most of it. Being plopped into the AHL playoffs after being in juniors is a rude awakening, and he bore it well. He used his space wisely, got physical when necessary and seemed to skate with confidence once his jitters wore off, “I was a little nervous at the start of the game, I was a little bit nervous. As the game went on I thought I gained more confidence,” Cholowski told media after Wednesday’s game. Over time, he will be a defensive asset to the Red Wings organization.
Unfortunately for Cholowski, his pro playoff debut was smothered by a slew of reckless penalties. Dan Renouf (GR) was told to leave the first period following a brawl with 4:46 remaining which started the unnecessary penalty trend. Hronek, usually a sedate and steady sort, lost his temper a handful of times and wound up with a major and a couple of minor penalties. Even Captain Matt Ford threw his gloves down for a bit of a spar in a post-whistle scrum. By the end of the first period alone, Manitoba had been assessed for 39 penalty minutes and Grand Rapids 29.
Though each team only scored once on their power play opportunities, the momentum and control was lost because of them. The Griffins had a hard time creating quality chances as their frustrations mounted and they spent more time taunting the Moose than making clean passes and finishing plays. Though finishing out the game with 48 shots on goal to the Moose’s 29, Grand Rapids couldn’t capitalize on any opportunity.
The Grand Rapids Infirmary
The growing number of injuries and issues are beginning to show in the Griffins lineup. Grand Rapids’ top penalty killers and power play special team guys did not take the ice in game three due to a myriad of reasons. Campbell was suspended (slated to be back Thursday), Turgeon is out for the rest of the season due to injury as is Matt Lorito. Though the Griffins do have enough depth to form some solid special teams, the absence of these guys is apparent. Heading into game four, Grand Rapids needs to seize control of the game and their tempers early on if they are going to make a solid push against the increasingly antagonistic Manitoba Moose.
Zach Nastasiuk, (Nasty), was a redeeming factor in Wednesday’s game. Netting his first 2018 post-season goal, the former Toledo Walleye is really beginning to find his place among the Griffins. Modeling his behind the net trapezoid play like veteran Eric Tangradi, Nasty came out of his shell Wednesday and made things happen. His goal, assisted by Corey Elkins and Brian Lashoff, jump started the Griffins offense at least for a short time in the second period.
The best the guys can do is put the 6-3 loss behind them and regroup for Thursday’s matchup. Already familiar with Manitoba’s physical (and at times, irritating) style of play, they know what they need to do to tie the series, “Keep it simple, shoot the puck on net, and don’t have stupid turnovers” as Hronek put it. Coming back to the Van Andel Thursday, the Griffins hope to earn a win and force a game five. “You got to try forget about this game and now you’ve got to win two in a row,” veteran Ben Street told media and he couldn’t be more right. Entering Thursday’s game four, the Griffins must put their folly from the previous night behind them, and focus on the task at hand – defending the cup.