By Chris Block
Before the IceHogs left for Games 1 and 2 in Grand Rapids earlier this week, Rockford head coach Ted Dent spoke of his team’s focus needing to be on containing Teemu Pulkkinen and keeping their composure in a building they haven’t had much success at in recent years.
After outplaying Grand Rapids in much of Game 1, but losing the decision 5-3 because of their own costly mental and physical errors, Rockford had to feel some sense of reassurance knowing they really only beat themselves in the series opener.
Well, on Friday, Rockford was resoundingly blown out of Van Andel Arena.
Grand Rapids allowed the first goal of the game when Spencer Abbott setup Brandon Mashinter for a one timer than was blown through Tom McCollum’s five hole at 6:18 of the first period.
But the Griffins responded by scoring five unanswered goals in route to a 5-1 final.
Rockford allowed 10 goals in the first two games of the series, one being an empty-netter at the end of Game 1.
However, 5 of those 10 goals came off the stick of Teemu Pulkkinen, the sniper the IceHogs were determined to tame.
Pulkkinen has 11 goals through 7 postseason games. He also now has 34 goals in the last 28 games he’s played in the AHL. Pulkkinnen did dress in 31 games with Detroit this season but tallied only 5 goals in those contests.
No such luck for the IceHogs though. Pulkkinen is on a roll and Rockford doesn’t appear to have an answer for stopping him.
Michael Leighton did not have his best game on Friday. Leighton allowed 5 goals against 30 Grand Rapids shots. A couple of those were saves he needed to make and in this series the margin of error for Rockford is going to be in a place where Leighton has to be better if the IceHogs are going to get back into this series. I wouldn’t pin either loss on him, especially Game 1, but Rockford will have a hard time extending this series if Leighton doesn’t elevate his play.
Six minutes after Rockford took to the scoreboard, Griffins’ defenseman Brian Lashoff sent Tyler Bertuzzi (Todd Bertuzzi’s nephew) up the left wing with a pass and into the IceHogs’s end. Bertuzzi was forced off toward the boards and well wide of Leighton’s net by Peter Regin and defenseman Robin Press. Bertuzzi flung a wrister at the net anyway from deep and wide in the left faceoff circle. The shot made it on net and Leighton put his glove up to catch it, but whiffed on the attempt. Bertuzzi’s shot found its way to the back of the net and the game was tied 1-1 with 7:34 to play in the opening period.
The game remained tied heading into intermission because of a late stop Tom McCollum made on Cody Bass after Ryan Hartman hit him with a pass on an IceHogs’ 2-on-1 chance in the final minute.
In the second period, Anthony Mantha, the recently maligned and criticized prized prospect of the Red Wings, scored his first goal of the postseason halfway through the frame when Kevin Porter set the table for Mantha on a 2-on-1 to give Grand Rapids a 2-1 advantage.
Rockford lost their grip on the game at this point after a nightmare initial seven or so minutes of the second period that the IceHogs got through without any damage done. The Griffins forecheckers wreaked havoc against Rockford’s defense and the IceHogs struggled to manage routine breakouts. Once they were out of the zone, the IceHogs committed several icings and off-side calls. The Mantha goal came a couple minutes after the IceHogs settled down. But that goal also was the result of another breakdown. Despite the IceHogs regaining some steam in the second half of the period, they stayed behind 2-1 after 40 minutes.
Pulkkinen gave Grand Rapids a 2-goal bulge 1:36 into the third when he skated right around Ville Pokka on a rush and beat Leighton one-on-one to make the score 3-1.
Six minutes later, Pulkkinen framed a one-timer for Jeff Hoggan to give the home team a 4-1 advantage. Mashinter and Press lost a battle along the boards to Tomas Nosek, who dished to Pulkkinen to setup Hoggan for his 1st goal of the postseason, coming at 7:58 of the third frame.
The ‘Hogs tried to push back two minutes later when the Danault line was buzzing low in the offensive zone but McCollum was able to prevent a pair of Danault and Ross stuff attempts from crossing the goal line.
Ryan Hartman put his team in a bad spot with seven minutes to play and down three goals when he took an extra penalty after Viktor Svedberg had already been whistled for boarding Louis-Marc Aubry on the boards in the Rockford zone. While standing over the fallen Aubry, Hartman threw a punch at Andreas Athanasiou, who had skated in to either check on his teammate, or even the sides as two IceHogs were hovering over Aubry. Athanasiou is recovering from a broken jaw and is wearing a face shield and guard. Hartman managed to land his gloved-punch underneath Athanasiou’s face guard and flush in the mouth. Athanasiou left the game at that point. Hartman was citing for roughing, putting the IceHogs down on a 5-on-3 penalty kill.
During that kill, Phil Danault got tossed for cross-checking and 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct for jumping a Griffin in front of Leighton after a whistle.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Pulkkinen wound up with the puck on his stick during the continued 5-on-3 and he beat Leighton once again to put the score to 5-1.
With the outcome no longer in doubt, the action got messier.
Stephen Johns viciously cross-checked a Griffin in front of Leighton to no call with a minute and a half left. Seconds later, Johns was called for an elbowing minor.
Grand Rapids finished the game on a power play but did not convert with that opportunity and the game ended by a 5-1 final score.
After the final horn sounded, Pierre-Cedric Labrie went after a couple Griffins players near the Grand Rapids’ net. He got a hold of Brennan Evans and those two jousted for a couple minutes but never got loose enough or dropped the gloves.
While that was going on, Keith Seabrook and Anthony Mantha separated from the pack and they were pushing, shoving and jabbing at one another while the lineman tried to calm the situation with Labrie down.
Once Labrie and Evans were separated, Labrie started jawing at Kevin Porter. As this was going on, Tom McCollum skated over and apparently said something to Labrie, who responded by taking a swing at the Griffins’ netminder.
72 minutes in penalties were dished out for the tomfoolery after the final horn sounded.
Labrie was the only player assessed a 10-minute, and a Game misconduct. The latter, presumably for the punch to McCollum, which will likely be reviewed by the league to determine if Labrie’s actions warrant a suspension from Game 3.
The series resumes for Game 3 in Rockford on Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
Game 4 will take place on Thursday in Rockford. Game 5 is Sunday afternoon at 4pm.
Rockford now needs to win at least 2 of the 3 games at home next week to extend the series and get it back to Grand Rapids, where they haven’t played well at all recently.
Potential Games 6 and 7 would be in Grand Rapids on Tuesday May 19 and Wednesday May 20.
-The Labrie shenanigans at the end of the game were disappointing in the sense that all season he’s been heralded by several of the younger guys as the veteran everyone follows.
Stephen Johns in particular, time after time, has pointed to Labrie as the unofficial leader of the IceHogs.
On Friday the group had already long since unbuckled by the time Labrie let his frustrations loose and went after Evans, Porter and McCollum after the game ended. But in this instance, Labrie led his teammates down the wrong path. The IceHogs now need to reset and refocus for a must-win setting on Wednesday night in Rockford.
Ted Dent’s lineup for Game 2 in Grand Rapids
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
22-Pierre-Cedric Labrie / 12-Dennis Rasmussen / 19-Dane Walters
8-Viktor Svedberg / 4-Stephen Johns
2-Kirill Gotovets / 29-Ville Pokka
5-Keith Seabrook / 36-Robin Press
35-Mac Carruth (backup)
-The one lineup change from Game 1 was the inserting of Dane Walters. That meant Alex Broadhurst was healthy scratched for the first time since he returned from the broken arm that kept him out of action from Thanksgiving until mid-March.
-Both Broadhurst and Dennis Rasmussen were benched for the 3rd period of Game 1. Neither player was used at all in the third period of Wednesday’s affair. Tanner Kero skated a couple of shifts in the third before Ryan Hartman replaced him on the line with Bass and Labrie.
-In Game 2, the top two defense pairs got flipped around in the second period as Svedberg and Pokka wound up together a lot.
Grand Rapids Griffins lineup for Game 2
10-Jeff Hoggan / 21-Andy Miele / 6-Teemu Pulkkinen
39-Tyler Bertuzzi / 19-Tomas Nosek / 9-Mark Zengerle
8-Anthony Mantha / 23-Andreas Athanasiou / 12-Kevin Porter
13-Marek Tvrdon / 22-Louis-Marc Aubry / 32-Alden Hirschfeld
4-Nathan Paetsch / 3-Alexey Marchenko
18-Brian Lashoff / 14-Nick Jensen
44-Brennan Evans / 16-Zavier Oullet
31-Jared Coreau (backup)
GR lineup notes:
-Though his team was victorious in Game 1, Griffins coach Jeff Blashill did alter his top two forward lines before Game 2. He moved Andy Miele up to center Pulkkinen on the top line and Nosek dropped down to pivot the second line.