Calder Cup Playoffs – Central Division Finals – Game 5 – Grand Rapids Wins Series, 4-1
GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS 5 at Chicago Wolves 2
May 13, 2017
ROSEMONT, Ill. – The Grand Rapids Griffins have advanced to the AHL’s Western Conference Finals for the third time in five years, thanks to a 5-2 victory in Chicago on Saturday that completed a 4-1 series win over the Wolves in the Central Division Finals.
Tyler Bertuzzi lit the lamp twice while Kyle Criscuolo, Matt Lorito and Tomas Nosek also chipped in two points each to help the Griffins exact revenge against a Chicago team that had finished first in the Central Division by a single point over Grand Rapids during the regular season.
The Griffins, whose AHL-leading 7-1 record matches the best postseason start in franchise history, continued their remarkable success at closing out playoff series. Grand Rapids has won six straight games in which its opponent faced playoff elimination and improved to an incredible 5-0 in such games on the road since the beginning of its Calder Cup run in 2013.
The Griffins’ reward will be a conference finals matchup against either the San Jose Barracuda or the San Diego Gulls. As the lower seed in the 2-3-2 series format, the Griffins will host Game 3 on Wednesday, May 24, Game 4 on Friday, May 26 and, if necessary, Game 5 on Saturday, May 27.
For the second time in the series’ three games in the Windy City, the Griffins scored the game’s first goal before many fans had taken their seats, as a slick Criscuolo backhand pass from the left circle found Evgeny Svechnikov alone at the back door for an easy redirection behind Ville Husso 2:08 into the contest.
Chicago answered less than five minutes later when Andrew Agozzino took a feed from Vince Dunn in the left circle and blasted a shot into the far corner of Jared Coreau’s net at 6:43.
The Griffins put the Wolves firmly on the endangered list with three second-period goals that staked the visitors to a commanding 4-1 lead. Dan Renouf sprinted into the left circle to grab a loose puck and threw it across to Bertuzzi on the doorstep for a backside deflection 3:53 into the frame, and Grand Rapids’ power play connected for a franchise playoff record-tying sixth straight game when Nosek swept a rebound inside the right post while falling to the ice at 15:51.
But the Griffins’ determination to close out the Wolves was most clearly displayed by an incredible individual effort by Criscuolo at the 18:31 mark. Rushing into the left corner to knock defenseman Petteri Lindbohm – to whom he cedes six inches and 40 pounds – off the puck, Criscuolo took off toward the net, fired a shot that hit the left post, then tapped the puck across the line after it sat behind Husso.
The intermission provided no answers for the Wolves, as Jordan Binnington replaced Husso to start the third and was promptly welcomed when Bertuzzi popped home a rebound from the left circle 30 seconds in to make it a four-goal margin. Chicago trimmed Grand Rapids’ lead to 5-2 when Samuel Blais scored from tight quarters at 3:35 but could get no closer, despite pulling Binnington for an extra attacker with more than three minutes left and ending the game with a 6-on-3 advantage in skaters thanks to a pair of late Griffins penalties.
Coreau finished with 22 saves and was an integral part of a penalty-killing unit that denied all six Wolves’ power play chances. Husso stopped 20 of 24 in the loss while Binnington denied eight of nine in relief.
Notes: The Griffins are now 10-3 in playoff series since 2013 and 11-4 all time on the road when their opponent faces elimination…Including the regular season, Grand Rapids went 12-3 against the Central Division champion Wolves this year.
Three Stars: 1. GR Bertuzzi (two goals); 2. GR Nosek (power play goal, assist); 3. GR Criscuolo (goal, assist)