Griffins Playoff Preview: Central Division Finals

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Coming off a second consecutive first round sweep of the Milwaukee Admirals, the Griffins continue their quest towards their second Calder Cup championship when they begin their series against another rival in the Chicago Wolves. Five Griffins made their AHL Playoff debuts in Joe Hicketts, Dominic Turgeon, Dan Renouf, Kyle Criscuolo, and Axel Holmstrom.

These two teams met 10 times during the regular season with the Griffins winning eight of those games going 4-1 at home and at Allstate Arena. The Wolves finished one point ahead of Grand Rapids to claim the Central Division crown. Chicago missed the playoffs last season and have yet to go consecutive seasons without a postseason bid. The Wolves beat the Charlotte Checkers in five games to clinch a showdown with the Griffins. By beating Charlotte, Chicago won their first playoff series since 2014. The Wolves are 3-4 in playoff series since they won the Calder Cup in 2008. Grand Rapids is 9-3 in playoff series since winning the Cup in 2013. The Griffins and Wolves are only two of four teams to have reached the 100 point mark during the regular season.

The Griffins entered the postseason as the #2 seed in the Central Division. They swept the Milwaukee Admirals for the second consecutive year. Grand Rapids won Games 1 and 3 in overtime and Game 2 by a score of 5-2. Out of the eight AHL first round playoff series, the Griffins were the only team to have swept an opponent. The Wolves were in a 2-1 series hole before winning the next two games to clinch the series. At the All-Star break, the Griffins were ahead of the Division winning Wolves by three points and also had three games in hand. But the Wolves went on a hot streak only dropping a total of four regulation games from Jan. 22 through the end of the regular season.

Towards the end of the regular season, the Griffins suffered through a rough patch dropping six of seven contests. Due to Call ups and injuries, Grand Rapids played without five of their nine top scorers and their #1 defenseman during the seven game stretch. On the final day of the regular season, the Griffins had a chance to win the division crown for the second time in three seasons. They trailed the Wolves by one point and owned the tie breaker. Grand Rapids crushed the Admirals 5-1 and needed the Wolves to lose, but Chicago rallied back from being down 3-1 to beat the Charlotte Checkers in overtime 4-3.

Since the Griffins began play, they have faced no other opponent in the playoffs as much as they have faced the Chicago Wolves. This series will mark the fifth time these two rivals have met in the postseason and the first time in 13 years. Unfortunately, the Griffins are 8-11 in 19 playoff game against the Wolves.

The Griffins and Wolves continue a heated rivalry that dates back to the Griffins first season in 1996-1997. In 140 regular season meetings, the Griffins have the advantage with a 79-51-2-6-2 record.

Grand Rapids and Chicago combined for 52 wins at their respective arenas this season. The Griffins won 25 times at the Van Andel Arena while the Wolves were tied for the most home wins in the AHL at 27. Since 2014-2015, the Wolves are just 3-8-2 against the Griffins at home.

Mitch Callahan, Brian Lashoff, and Nathan Paetsch are the only remaining players on the Griffins roster from the 2013 Calder Cup Championship team. Landon Ferraro, who was also a part of the team, is a member of the Wolves but has been out due to injury since mid December.

Martin Frk is expected to be back in the lineup after missing the final three regular season games and all three playoff games. Frk’s presence will be welcomed again as the Griffins have been struggling on the power play since his absence. The Griffins were only able to convert on 2 of 16 power play opportunities against the Admirals. But the penalty kill was a major factor in the sweep, killing 10 of 11 penalties.

The Griffins had a balanced scoring attack in the first round with seven players averaging a point per game. Jared Coreau played all three games in net for Grand Rapids and will be leaned on to carry the load as well for this series. Coreau was solid in goal with a 2.1 GAA and a save % of .931.

Tyler Bertuzzi had two goals in the first round and now has 16 career AHL Playoff goals and that places him second all time in Griffins playoff history. Teemu Pulkkinen has 22 career Calder Cup Playoff goals.

Game 1 begins tonight in Chicago. Axel Holmstrom is expected to be a scratch with Martin Frk expected to be inserted back into the lineup. The game is set to begin just after 8 p.m. Catch the action on ESPN 96.1 or on AHLlive.com.

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