OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The third seeded Griffins scored a variety of goals in the second period, to win Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. An even strength unassisted goal by Tomas Jurco, a short-handed goal by Mitch Callahan, and a power-play goal by Tomas Tatar, all scored within 4:15 gave Grand Rapids a decided victory on the road.
Rookie goaltender Petr Mrazek earned his second consecutive shut out against the Barons, and his forth of the post-season, as he stopped all 37 shots he faced. With the win, the Griffins take a 3 to 2 series lead back to Grand Rapids. Game 6 is schedule for Tuesday.
The physical play was evident throughout the game, especially during the first few seconds in the second period when Chris VandeVelde hit Gustav Nyquist at the blue line. “They were kind of doing a tic-tac-toe when I saw him in the middle of the ice,” said VandeVelde. “I laid a shoulder; hopefully it looks like a clean hit.”
There were several instances of pushing and shoving, some of which escalated. The fight between Ryan Martindale and Landon Ferraro seems to motivate the Griffins, as the deluge of goals began a few minutes later. “Their first goal was a turn-over,” said Coach Todd Nelson. “When you look at the goals they scored, they could have been prevented.” What should have been a man advantage for the Barons, as Brian Lashoff was sitting in the penalty box for the Griffins, turned out to be a short handed goal for M. Callahan. A poorly timed Barons line change game the Griffins an opportunity. Assists on the short-handed goal went to Joakim Andersson and Brennan Evans.
With less than two minutes remaining in the second period, Nyquist got sandwiched between two Barons in the boards. Teemu Hartikainen and Ben Eager double teamed Nyquist, yet Eager was assessed the interference penalty. The Griffins power-play went to work, as Tatar scored on a pass from Andersson and Chad Billins. The three goals in the middle frame would be the only goals scored in the game.
“You cannot leave a guy like Tatar walking up the pike,” said Nelson. “The bottom line is in order to win a hockey game; we have to score a goal.” The Barons were 0 for 6 on power-play opportunities. “The 5-on-5 wasn’t like we were getting outplayed,” said Taylor Fedun. There were just a couple of tough plays that they capitalized on.”
Mrazek has not been scored on for eight periods, has posted a 1.40 goals against average and a .960 saves percentage in this series. “As you read off each and every one of his [Mrazek] stats, it is like a poke in the back,” said Fedun. “You got to give him credit, he is playing outstanding and it has been the difference for them.”
The Barons outshot the Griffins 37 to 25, yet came up empty handed. “We played hard, but we beat ourselves,” said Nelson. “We fanned on pucks, we had open nets we didn’t capitalize on; we’ve had backdoor plays all alone.”
To get a win on the road, the Barons must solve Mrazek. “With a 5-on3, we have got to hit the net first,” said Nelson. “We have got to burry our chances. If we capitalize on our opportunities, we will be fine.”
At the conclusion of the game, both teams boarded the same charter airplane for Michigan.
Game 6 is scheduled for Tuesday in Grand Rapids. If the Griffins win, they clinch the Western Division Finals and move onto the Calder Cup Championship. If the Barons win, a decisive Game 7 will be necessary to determine which team moves on.
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