IceHogs Beat Themselves in Game 1; Pulkinnen Hat-Trick Leads Grand Rapids to 5-3 Win

By Chris Block

Going into the Game 1 of the this Western Conference Semifinal series with Grand Rapids, the Rockford IceHogs had one primary focus – try to contain Griffins’ right winger Teemu Pulkkinen.

Rockford failed in that objective in Wednesday’s series opener as the Detroit Red Wings super-prospect struck for 3 goals in a 5-3 win over the visiting IceHogs.

Grand Rapids scored two minutes into the game when Michael Leighton misjudged a weak Kevin Porter backhander. The IceHogs tied the game 8:41 into the second frame when they took advantage of a terrible Griffins turnover in front of their own net and goalie Tom McCollum had no chance on a Mark McNeill one-timer from in tight.

Then the Pulkkinen show took center stage when he stored 3 minutes and 23 seconds apart later in the second to take a 2-goal lead heading into the third. Stephen Johns got the IceHogs back into the game with a snipe at 3:16 of the third period. Then Garret Ross tied the game when he tipped a Johns’ blast with 10:40 left in regulation.

But, the game was decided when the IceHogs allowed Pulkkinen to go the their net unchecked with under 3 minutes to go in a tied affair. Pulkkinen got a pass from center Tomas Nosek and Leighton had no chance on the shot at 17:14 of the third. Louis-Marc Aubry added an empty-netter with 18 seconds to go to finish the scoring at a 5-3 final for the home team.

Pulkkinen, 23, faced Rockford in just 4 of the two teams 8 regular season meetings. In those contests, Pulkkinen tallied just 1 goal and a total of 3 points. His lone goal in season competition came 34 seconds into a New Years Eve contest at Grand Rapids.

But since then, Pulkkinen has been terrorizing the American Hockey League. The 5’10” Finnish sniper struggled to find a similar scoring touch in 31 NHL games with Detroit this year, where he had just 5 goals and 3 assists. His struggles in Detroit led to Pulkkinen being the odd-man out for the Red Wings in their postseason lineup. Instead, the Red Wings went with Landon Ferraro (Ray’s son) and sent Pulkkinen back to Grand Rapids just in time for the AHL playoffs.

Including his hat-trick in Game 1 against Rockford, Pulkkinen has 32 goal in his last 27 games in the American Hockey League.

His recent reign of terror over AHL competition draws parallels to that of Jeremy Morin’s two-month domination of the AHL in January and February of 2014. That stretch earned Morin a permanent (well, almost) promotion to the NHL. Yet, over a year later, Morin still hasn’t been able to produce or show near any level of the skill he did the minor league.

Pulkkinen is a former teammate of Teuvo Teravainen.

Teravainen and Pulkkinen both came up through the Jokerit program in Helsinki, Finland. Though Teravainen is more than 2 and 1/2 years younger than Pulkkinen, the two played pro together in Finland’s elite pro league, SM-Liiga, in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Pulkkinen was SM-Liiga’s rookie of the year in 2011. Teravainen won the award in 2012.

The two rarely skated on the same line. Pulkkinen has almost exclusively skated at right wing in his professional career (He is a right-handed shot). Though many people associate Teravainen as a natural center, the majority of Teravainen’s ice time as a pro with Jokerit was spent on the wings. Teravainen did center Pulkkinen on occasion in 2011-12, but that wasn’t a regular thing. Whenever Pulkkinen was injured, or just out of the lineup, Teravainen typically took Pulkkinen spot on the right wing.

As for Wednesday’s series opener, Rockford was better for longer stretches of the game, but they didn’t do enough to bag a win and seize control of home ice advantage.

Rockford was its own worst enemy in Game 1 as it was a bad Peter Regin turnover, coupled with a Brandon Mashinter mental error that left Pulkkinen unchecked on the game-winning goal. That play ultimately became the difference in a game that Rockford largely outplayed the Griffins.

The IceHogs outshot Grand Rapids 37-28 in Game 1. When you look at zone starts, 36% of Rockford’s zone starts came in the offensive zone to 27% for the Griffins. And that 27% for Grand Rapids was boosted somewhat by the IceHogs committing a higher number of icings than they normally do.

Rockford won 53% of faceoffs (by our unofficial count) in Wednesday’s contest. Phil Danault led the way for the IceHogs by taking 68% of his faceoffs. A deeper look at those faceoff numbers show that Rockford dominated faceoffs in neutral territory, were barely above 50% in the offensive zone and just 37% on defensive zone draws.

So, as much as Rockford paced the action in Game 1, there are crucial areas of the game they need to shore up moving forward.

Another factor in Game 1 was the awful ice conditions. Van Andel Arena was unusually warm on the inside on a day that saw 80 degree-plus temperatures outside in Grand Rapids.

That soft ice may or may not have been a factor in Grand Rapids’ first goal. It was one Leighton should have made a stop on, but it somehow got under and by the IceHogs’ goalie’s left leg pad at 2:01 of the first period. Anthony Mantha had won a board battle on the half wall, skating away from Cody Bass and Ryan Hartman. Mantha stepped into the circle with three ‘Hogs standing and watching him, then fed it to Porter for the scoring chance. As he released his shot, Porter was put to the ice by Johns. The goal was Porter’s first of the playoffs and Mantha picked up the lone helper.

Rockford was buzzing around Tom McCollum’s net around the six minute mark to no avail. Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Alex Broadhurst tried to cash in off a Louis-Marc Aubry defensive zone turnover, but McCollum stood his ground. Seconds later, Johns tried a rush from center but McCollum again proved he would be tough to beat on this night.

Later, Spencer Abbott dangled through Griffins down the top of the slot, toe-pulling his way to a one-on-one with McCollum but Abbott’s shot was swatted aside. Shortly after this, in the warm building conditions, the bad ice became more of a factor as the period entered its final minutes.

With two minutes to go in the first, Mantha skated into Rockford’s end a 2-on-1 but elected to shoot. Leighton presented himself big and made the easy stop. Down at the other end, Grand Rapids turned the puck over in their zone but Rockford couldn’t connect on a pass to Abbott on the choppy ice and the period drew to an end with the Griffins leading 1-0.

P-C Labrie took an offensive zone penalty at 3:26 of the second period when he slashed Nathan Paetsch, but the Grand Rapids power play would not make a contribution to the scoresheet on this night.

Mark McNeill tied the game at 8:41 of the second off a terrible Tomas Nosek turnover aside the Griffins’ net. Nosek wound up with the puck after defenseman Alexey Marchenko coughed it up under some distress. Nosek passed the puck right to Garret Ross, who quickly fed McNeill for a one-timer from point-blank range. McCollum had no chance on this one. The goal was McNeill’s first of the postseason, and first professional playoff goal as well. Ross had the lone assist.

McCollum prevented Rockford from taking the lead a minute later when he shut the pads on Abbott after a clean setup from Mashinter.

Rockford’s power play was a big letdown in Game 1. Overall, the IceHogs were 0 for 5 with the man advantage in the series opener. Mark Zengerle was sent to the box for hooking Mashinter, which was a weak call – a makeup call perhaps from a non-call Mashinter was vehemently protesting upon the previous whistle. On the ensuing ‘Hogs power play, however, the best chance went to Grand Rapids center Andreas Athanasiou (who is a heck of a player). Athanasiou had a short-handed rush, man-on-man against Ville Pokka. It was tremendously played by Pokka, who fought Athanasiou off the puck as he entered the zone. In the jousting, Pokka lost his stick, but managed to stay in front of Athanasiou and pushed the Griffin off all the way to the half board. Athanasiou’s efforts did still kill off 10-plus seconds near the end of Rockford’s power play and basically prevented one final rush.

Forty seconds after the IceHogs power play expired, Teemu Pulkkinen beat two Rockford defenseman and Michael Leighton to give Grand Rapids a 2-1 lead.

Tyler Bertuzzi, in his 6th pro game, standing off the wall at his own blue line, fed a streaking Pulkkinen at center. Pulkkinen mishandled Bertuzzi’s pass, temporarily coughing it up to Kirill Gotovets. The IceHogs’ rookie defender, however, couldn’t handle the hot puck and gave it right back to Pulkkinen, who stepped between Gotovets and Keith Seabrook and drove towards Leighton. Pulkkinen appeared to freeze Leighton, who looked as though he was expecting the sniper to go five-hold. Instead, Pulkkinen fired his shot by Leighton’s stunned right leg pad and into the net at 13:05 of the second. Bertuzzi and Andy Miele got the assists.

3 minutes later, Pulkkinen struck again. Dennis Rasmussen had lost a neutral zone faceoff to Andy Miele. Miele, again, passed off to Bertuzzi, who skated wide through the left circle. Bertuzzi then attempted a centering pass out front, which Ryan Hartman picked off. But an anxious Hartman then threw a blind back-hand pass up the zone, which went right to Pulkkinen. The Finnish scoring machine made no mistake as he used Stephen Johns as a screen and beat Leighton with a wrister inside the near post. It was a difficult save for Leighton to make either way as he was deep in his crease with traffic on top of him when Hartman turned the puck over to Pulkkinen. The goal came at 16:28 of the second frame.

Rasmussen did not skate another shift after this goal. Andy Miele committed a late defensive-zone penalty with 1:29 to play in the period but Rockford could not capitalize before the period ended. Upon a fresh sheet of ice to start the third, Rockford’s power play failed to even gain the offensive zone before Miele’s penalty expired.

Stephen Johns then took command of the game. Johns sped into the Griffins zone and cut to his off side through the left faceoff circle and picked far corner off the right post and into the net at 3:16 of the third period. Yes, Johns at 3:16 drew the IceHogs to within a goal of tying the score. Spencer Abbott and Keith Seabrook assisted.

Seven minutes into the third, Abbott tried to split the Grand Rapids defense as he did earlier in the first period, but this time Nick Jensen and Brian Lashoff put Abbott down to his seat. Shots at this point of the period were 6-0, and 33-20 for the game in favor of the visitors.

Rockford tied the game at 9:20 when Johns wound up from the right point and unleashed a rocket that Garret Ross redirected with his stick blade on its way by. Viktor Svedberg got the secondary assist from sliding a pass across the top of the zone to Johns for the big shot.

In one of the worst decisions you’ll ever see, Griffins’ winger Marek Tvrdon passed up a prime scoring chance from point-blank range after a ghastly P-C Labrie turnover deep in the ‘Hogs end. Labrie gave the puck right to Tvrdon in the right faceoff circle. Instead of shooting, Tvrdon buried his head and elected to attempt to stickhandle across the low slot toward Alden Hirschfeld, who had set himself up on the backdoor. Tvrdon failed to get a shot or a pass off, as Svedberg pokechecked the puck off his stick to prevent what was a great opportunity to take the lead.

Svedberg had some misfortune later, though, when his stick broke on a shot at the left point inside the Griffins’ zone. To prevent an odd-man rush against, Svedberg stuck his leg out on Athanasiou and that put Rockford on the PK with 7:52 to play.

Tvrdon had the best chance on the ensuing power play but he hit the post. The IceHogs forwards were deployed on very quick 20 second shifts on this penalty kill.

With 5 minutes to play the action was furiously pacing back and forth, with both teams trading the upper hands on great physical man-on-man battles at each end.

Then a case of lost coverage with Pulkkinen on the ice resulted in the game-winner.

Pulkkinen had been out for a very long shift. Peter Regin was at fault for holding on to the puck too long and trying to skate through checkers in front of the player benches at center. Regin turned the puck over to Marek Tvrdon (making amends for his earlier mistakes). Tvrdon quickly fed Tomas Nosek, who then hustled into the IceHogs zone on the left wing. Nosek was one-on-one with Pokka. Pokka made a nice play on the body, temporarily pushing Nosek off the puck. However, the puck came right back to Nosek and the Griffins’ center found Pulkkinen all alone on the doorstep in front of Leighton for the easy tap-in tally to cap off his hat-trick Game 1 performance. Pulkkinen’s 9th goal of the playoffs (6 games) gave Grand Rapids a 4-3 lead with 2:46 to play in regulation time.

The real killer on the go-ahead goal was Mashinter failing to pick up Pulkkinen. Mashinter located Pulkkinen, and was the closest Hog to him. But Mashinter didn’t read the play correctly. Gotovets had to step up on Trvdon, who had jumped into the rush. Pulkkinen was the late man. Mashinter looked around for someone else to check Pulkkinen, but since he was the closest, that should have been his guy. He didn’t and instead, Pulkkinen was completely unchecked with the game on the line in the waning minutes of a tie game.

Despite Regin’s turnover, and Mashinter’s gaff, the Regin-Abbott-Mashinter line stayed out for the shift post-goal.

Robin Press was out for the second-to-last shift of the third period. He jumped up on a rush and pinched low but his centering attempt didn’t connect.

Leighton was pulled for the extra attacker with a minute to go.

With 18 seconds to go, Andreas Athanasiou raced with Stephen Johns for a puck into the IceHogs’ end. Johns bumped Athanasiou off the puck to prevent him from scoring into the empty net, but the loose puck laid out for a trailing Louis-Marc Aubry, who back-handed it into the visitor’s vacated net to put the game out of reach at 5-3.

There were some shenanigans then before the game became a final.

Cody Bass and Andy Miele got into a stick-fighting match on the faceoff at center after Aubry’s goal. Bass and Miele both were eventually tossed, each handed ten minute misconducts. Brennan Evans slashed an IceHog shortly after the puck was finally dropped and he was sent off.

Then, as the game ended, Ryan Hartman took a cheap shot when he checked Aubry along the boards from behind in the final seconds. Hartman was cited a clipping minor at the 20:00 mark of the third.

Overall the IceHogs got the better of the action in Game 1 but their physical and mental errors proved costly in this 5-3 defeat.

Game 2 is Friday night in Grand Rapids. The ice conditions could again be a factor in the play as there is a concert at Van Andel on Thursday night.

Next week the series shifts back to Rockford for Games 3, 4 and 5 on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday respectively.

Other Notes

–The Town of Rockford, Michigan, which sits about 20 minutes north of Van Andel Arena, has been renamed “Griffinville” for the next two weeks in the spirit of rooting on the hometown Grand Rapids Griffins.

–Jeff Blashill’s playoff series record as coach of Grand Rapids is 6-1.

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–Ted Dent’s lines, pairs, scratches & specials in Game 1 at GR, 5/6/15

Forwards [LW-C-RW]

26-Garret Ross / 18-Phillip Danault / 28-Mark McNeill

53-Brandon Mashinter / 11-Peter Regin / 13-Spencer Abbott

24-Ryan Hartman / 32-Tanner Kero / 16-Cody Bass

25-Alex Broadhurst / 12-Dennis Rasmussen / 22-P-C Labrie

Defense

8-Viktor Svedberg / 4-Stephen Johns

2-Kirill Gotovets / 29-Ville Pokka

5-Keith Seabrook / 36-Robin Press

Goal

49-Michael Leighton

35-Mac Carruth (backup)

X-No emergency 3rd goalie

Primary Scratches: D-3-Zach Miskovic… D-10-Calle Dahlstrom… LW-27-Matt Carey… RW-19-Dane Walters…

Other Scratches: D-7-Robin Norell… D-34-Justin Holl… C-14-Drew LeBlanc… C-17-Vince Hinostroza… C-20-Jamie Wise…

Injuries: D-6-Trevor van Riemsdyk (right wrist surgery, est. return June 2nd {8 weeks})… D-9-Dillon Fournier (finger)… LW-38-Ryan Schnell (hand surgery)…

Special Teams

Power play I: Hartman-Regin-Broadhurst(*) w/ Abbott & Johns
Power play II: Ross-Rasmussen-Mashinter w/ McNeill & Pokka

PK forwards: Danault-McNeill, Rasmussen-Bass, Regin-Abbott, Kero-Hartman
PK defense: Svedberg-Johns, Gotovets-Pokka, Seabrook (for Svedberg PIM)

Lineup notes:

-Alex Broadhurst & Dennis Rasmussen were benched the entirety of the third period. Kero began the period on a line with Labrie and Bass on his wings but replaced after a couple shifts by Ryan Hartman.

(*) In the 2nd period, Broadhurst was removed from the 1st PP unit in favor of Kero. Kero did not see the ice the final 13-14 minutes of the game. Although he is a regular penalty killer and the IceHogs did have to kill the Svedberg minor with the game tied and 8 minutes to go in the third, Rasmussen was not used after the second period. Both Broadhurst and Rasmussen were on the bench. Labrie replaced Rasmussen on both special teams units.

-Dent went with 3 lines in the 3rd period. As follows…

Ross-Danault-McNeill
Mashinter-Regin-Abbott
Labrie-Bass-Hartman (Kero started the period on this line. Hartman replaced him 8 minutes into the 3rd.

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–Grand Rapids’ Griffins lineup May 6, 2015, Game 1, WCSF Calder Cup Playoffs

Forwards [LW-C-RW]

10-Jeff Hoggan / 19-Tomas Nosek / 6-Teemu Pulkkinen

39-Tyler Bertuzzi / 21-Andy Miele / 9-Mark Zengerle

8-Anthony Mantha / 23-Andreas Athanasiou / 12-Kevin Porter

13-Marek Tvrdon / 22-Louis-Marc Aubry / 32-Alden Hirschfeld

Defense

4-Nathan Paetsch / 3-Alexey Marchenko

18-Brian Lashoff / 14-Nick Jensen

44-Brennan Evans / 16-Xavier Ouellet

Goal

30-Tom McCollum

31-Jared Coreau (backup)

35-Jake Paterson (scratched)

Scratches: D-7-Ryan Sproul… LW-17-Colin Campbell… RW-55-Chris Bruton… D-5-Joe Hicketts… RW-11-Zach Nastasiuk… C-20-Dominic Turgeon…

Injuries: RW-15-Mitch Callahan (season-ending ACL surgery right knee)…

Special Teams

Power play I: Hoggan-Miele-Zengerle w/ Pulkkinen & Paetsch
Power play II: Athanasiou-Nosek-Tvrdon w/Ouellet & Marchenko

PK forwards: Nosek-Aubry, Athanasiou-Porter
PK defense: Lashoff-Jensen, Paetsch-Marchenko

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2015 Calder Cup Western Conference Semifinals Series

Grand Rapids Griffins (#2) vs. Rockford IceHogs (#4)

Game 1: Wed May 6 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids [GR Win 5-3]
Game 2: Fri May 8 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids
Game 3: Wed May 13 – 7pm – BMO Harris Bank Center
Game 4: Thu May 14 – 7pm – BMO Harris Bank Center
Game 5: Sun May 17 – 4pm – BMO Harris Bank Center

Game 6: Tue May 19 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids
Game 7: Wed May 20 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids

-All Times Central
–For those with tickets to the game in Rockford, Game 3 is “Game D”, Game 4 (E) and Game 5 (F).

Tickets for Games 3-5 are available through TicketMaster or the BMO Harris Bank Center Box Office at 815-968-5222.

If you live in the Rockford region, games are televised on digital channel 23.2 Antenna TV. That’s channel 436 on Comcast in the Rockford area only. 247 on Comcast in Rochelle; 101 on Mediacom Cable; 193 for Charter Communications.

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ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com
Twitter.com/ChrisBlock

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