Griffins edge Barons in Game 1
Goals by Brennan Evans & Landon Ferraro vault Griffins to a 2-1 victory
EDGED BY GRIFFINS
For the second time in three series' this post-season, the Barons find themselves trailing 1-0.
Andrew Hotham scored and Yann Danis made 26 saves, but it wasn't enough as the Grand Rapids Griffins edged OKC 2-1 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final Friday night at Van Andel Arena.
Brennan Evans and Landon Ferraro tallied for the home side.
"We were pretty rusty," admitted Head Coach Todd Nelson. "We didn't have our execution down tonight. We definitely looked like a team that had been off for eight or nine days."
"We did some good things tonight, but there are some things we need to do better," added Hotham, whose goal was his first of the playoffs. "We'll work on that and talk about it tomorrow morning and be ready for Game 2. You always want to come home with a split or up 2-0, so we still have a chance to get that split tomorrow."
Danis was sensational early on, preserving a 1-1 tie after one period of play.
Just nine seconds in and signaling a sloppy start for the visitors, the puck slipped off Martin Marincin's stick as he backed in to the left of Yann Danis. Pouncing on the defenceman's error, Jeff Hogan launched a one-time shot on goal, but Danis swatted it aside with the shaft of his stick.
Controlling the pace and gunning for the icebreaker, Grand Rapids succeeded on its third shot to take a 1-0 lead at 7:15. With Danis screened by Marincin at the far faceoff circle, Evans sifted a long-range wrist shot through the wickets of the Barons netminder.
The Griffins kept coming, nearly making it a 2-0 game on the very next shift. Spinning in the slot, Michigan product Luke Glendening delivered a backhand shot off the crossbar. Moments later, Ben Eager was assessed an interference minor, but the Griffins' power-play expired without incident.
With 3:20 left in the opening frame, the Barons brought the game back on even terms. As the home side lazily conducted a line change, veteran Jonathan Cheechoo gained the zone and dropped a pass back to Hotham, charging in hard from the neutral zone. With room to skate, the defenceman raced in and beamed a shot past Mrazek on the glove side.
With the scored knotted at one, Grand Rapids held a slim 9-7 advantage in shots after 20 minutes.
On the heels of an unsuccessful Barons power-play, the Griffins regained the lead 2:35 into the second period. On a bit of a broken play down low that led to a fierce goalmouth scramble, Landon Ferraro popped the puck into the open cage after Danis was caught guarding the other side.
"We've got to get our feet moving and get the pucks moving north-south," said Cheechoo, who recorded three shots and a +3 rating in the loss. "We played a lot of side-to-side hockey tonight and our game is getting it in and getting our forecheck going.
"When we do that, we start banging bodies and create turnovers. We have to do a little more of that."
With Glendening off serving a holding minor shortly thereafter, Mrazek held court. Patrolling the low slot and with the goaltender down and out, Philippe Cornet hopped on a rebound and had an open net to shoot for.
Or so he thought.
The loose puck handcuffed him just enough, giving Mrazek an extra second to spring back into position and rob Cornet of a sure goal.
With both teams scoring a combined 34 goals (17 each) in their four-game season-series, Friday's low-scoring affair came as a bit of a surprise.
"When we're sharp, those chances usually go in," said Nelson, "but we weren't as sharp as we could have been. We didn't have our hands tonight. Passes were off. When it comes down to scoring goals, you have to have good execution.
"Tonight was a grind both ways for both teams. We both respect each other's offence and that's why it was a close checking (game), but it's one of those things where if we get our execution and our edge back, we'll be a better team."
Added Cheechoo: "It's the playoffs and everybody tightens up a little bit. When you have two skilled teams going up against one another, you get more of a defensive hockey game because you know what the other team is capable of."
Each team had a pair of power-play chances that went for naught in the second. By night's end, Oklahoma City failed to convert on three separate power-play chances, while Grand Rapids let four slip away.
The Barons had their share of chances in the third, including a sensational no-look, behind-the-net centering pass by Tyler Pitlick to Josh Green in the slot, but Mrazek made a glorious stop to preserve the lead.
"I think we were in it, but I think we can do a better job of making (Mrazek's) life difficult," said Cheechoo. "A lot of times we either failed to get the puck through, or when we did, there was no one in front. A goalie at this level is going to stop those chances. We've got to get our feet going, move to the net and create some rebounds. When you do, that's when you capitalize."
Danis was pulled for an extra-attacker with 80 seconds to play. Cheechoo and Mark Arcobello were both presented with wonderful opportunities to score, but Mrazek shut the door.
Arcobello recorded an assist on Hotham's goal, extending his stranglehold on the AHL post-season scoring lead with 16 points in 11 games. He was unable to tally a goal, however, halting his goal streak at five games.
While the loss certainly stings, the positive is that the Barons get a chance to avenge it in less than 24 hours. Game 2 goes on Saturday night, right back at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.
"You don't want to go down 2-0, but at the same time, it's home ice advantage for a reason," said Cheechoo. "We've got to come in tomorrow night and keep things simple. I think we tried to make too many pretty plays tonight -- maybe it was the time off or whatever, but we have to get back to the way we were playing before."
"To get right back at it is good," added Nelson. "That layoff was pretty long and we were a different team tonight than we were against Texas. We've got to get that edge back and tomorrow's a great opportunity for us."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick