GRAND RAPIDS, MICH- After getting off to a start so rough it was questioned for a time if they would make the playoffs, the defending Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins been red hot since late December. Just like last year, the Griffins are now a team which is using its core veterans of forwards to find its success.
In opposite fashion of Grand Rapids, Manitoba started the regular season hot but cooled off down the stretch. Thought the Moose held a commanding led in the Central Division for the first half of the season, they have also been a team which struggled mightily at times in January and February. Because of this, the Moose finished third in the division with only a single point separating them from the second place Griffins.
Final Regular Season Records:
Manitoba Moose: 42-26-4-4, 93 points (3rd in Central Division, 4th in the Western Conference)
Grand Rapids Griffins: 42-25-2-7, 92 points (2nd in the Central Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)
Game 1- Saturday, April 21 Grand Rapids at MANITOBA 3 pm ET
Game 2- Sunday, April 22 – Grand Rapids at MANITOBA 3 pm ET
Game 3- Wednesday, April 25- Manitoba at GRAND RAPIDS 7 pm ET
*Game 4- Thursday, April 26 -Manitoba at GRAND RAPIDS 7 pm ET
*Game 5- Monday, April 30- Manitoba at GRAND RAPIDS 7 pm ET
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
In the regular season, the Griffins won the season series 6-2 in eight games including a dominant opening night win against the Moose. The Griffins have not dropped a single game to the Moose at Bell MTS Iceplex (4-0), while the Moose took two of four on the Griffins’ home turf.
10 different Griffins players have at least four points against the Moose in the eight regular season match ups, while only five players on the Moose can say the same. As a unit, the Griffins hold a 26-17 advantage in goals scored during the eight-game series, and they have thrice scored five goals against the Moose in a 5-2 win on Oct. 6th, a 5-1 win on Jan. 10th and a 5-0 win on Feb. 17th.
However, in the two victories for Manitoba, it handily overpowered Grand Rapids by a score of 7-2 on Oct. 7th and then a closer win 3-1 on Nov. 24th. Though the Griffins did win games against the Moose earlier in the season, the more open games came once the Moose began losing players to the Winnipeg Jets both due to injury call ups and in preparation for a long Stanley Cup Playoff run. The Moose roster as it currently stands missed key pieces such as Nic Petan and Brendan Lemieux during stretches of the season, but they return for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
How Manitoba Wins:
After both were impressive in the regular season, Manitoba will need solid goaltending from Michael Hutchinson and Eric Comrie. Even tough he does not have playoff experience under his belt, Comrie had a stellar 2017-2018 regular season with 916 save percentage while Hutchinson had a 0.935 PCT. The Moose also need success from prized rookie Mason Appleton who had 22 goals and 44 assists in 76 games to lead Manitoba.
The Griffins play a much more physical game than the quick Moose, so Manitoba needs to dictate the pace of the game from the opening puck drop. In its two wins over Grand Rapids over the regular season, Manitoba did just that, but when Grand Rapids was allowed the opening jump, it feel behind quickly.
How Grand Rapids Wins:
With at times a shaky veteran backup in Tom McCollum, Grand Rapids veteran starter Jared Coreau will have to lead the charge. Coreau had again a solid regular season with 21 wins with a 979 SVS and 0.913 Pct. Next to goaltending, Grand Rapids will look to its old core of veterans of Eric Tangradi, Ben Street, Matthew Ford and Matthew Lorito, to once again power the Griffins to a title.
Though Tyler Bertuzzi was processed on a paper transaction to make him eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Red Wings’ decision to forego his return in favor of him gaining strength over the summer does potentially hurt the Griffins as they did plan on him coming back. However, Bertuzzi played in just one game this season against the Moose, so his loss should not hurt the Griffins; they simply need to continue to exploit the scoring depth they have had against the Moose all season.