Calder Cup Finals Begin Saturday

The Calder Cup playoffs are down to the final two, and the Final series between the Syracuse Crunch and the Grand Rapids Griffins gets underway Saturday night in Syracuse.

These are two first-time finalists, but, in an interesting twist, the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliation is actually going for a successful defense of the Calder Cup title.  And, scarily enough, the Crunch, who took over the Tampa affiliation from the Cup-champion Norfolk Admirals after last season, are actually having an even stronger playoff run so far than the Norfolk juggernaut did last spring.

Although they did sweep their last two series, last year’s Admirals lost three games in the postseason, two of them to the Whale in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  To this point, Syracuse has only lost one of 12 outings.  That was Game One of their Eastern Conference Final series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, which Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won by a score of 4-2.  After that loss the Crunch went on to win four straight, including a 7-0 trouncing of a Penguin team that was the best defensive club in the AHL during the regular season in the decisive Game Five.

Ondrej Palat (5-15-20) and Tyler Johnson (9-8-17) are leading a Syracuse offense that is averaging four goals per game in the playoffs, a full half

Cedrick Desjardins (blog.syracuse.com)

Cedrick Desjardins (blog.syracuse.com)

a goal per contest more than the next highest-scoring club, Oklahoma City, which bowed out to Grand Rapids in a wild, seven-game Western Conference Final.  The Crunch also have the lowest team goals-against average, 1.92, of any playoff club that has played more than four games, and veteran netminder Cedrick Desjardins appears to be at the top of his game, playing behind a defense that features the likes of Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas, Matt Taormina, J.P. Cote and Brendan Mikkelson.

The Griffins, meanwhile, have had a much tougher road to the Finals, as only one of their three series’ so far, a six-game triumph over Toronto in the Conference Semifinals, has failed to go the distance.  Grand Rapids is battle-tested, however, and has hung around long enough to get a couple of very high-end forwards, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, back down from the parent Detroit Red Wings.

Tomas Tatar (Grand Rapids Griffins)

Tomas Tatar (Grand Rapids Griffins)

The addition of those two Swedes adds to the Griffins’ distinctly Red Wing-like cadre of explosive Europeans.  Slovakian import Tomas Tatar is the leading goal-scorer still alive in the playoffs, with 11-5-16 in 18 games, fellow Slovak Tomas Jurco has 7-6-13 and Slovenian-born winger Jan Mursak is second on the Grand Rapids team in goals, with eight, and has the club’s best plus/minus in the postseason, a +9.  The Griffins’ goaltender is from the other side of the pond also, and Czech Republic native Petr Mrazek’s save percentage, 92.1, is actually higher than Desjardins’ (92.0).

Another interesting story line is behind the benches.  On the Syracuse side, Rob Zettler took over from Jon Cooper when he was promoted to the Tampa Bay head job March 25, after leading Norfolk to the title last season.  And in Grand Rapids Jeff Blashill is in his very first year as a pro head man.

Free live streaming of the Finals is available at www.ahllive.com.  Just enter the promo code CALDER2013.

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