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Barracuda vs Griffins Game 1 Preview: Quest for the Calder Cup continues

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A playoff series against a team from Michigan? Where have I seen this before....

For the first time in the 20-year history of Sharks AHL affiliates, the San Jose Barracuda are playing in the Conference Finals. Tonight, the Barracuda continues its pursuit of a Calder Cup at the SAP Center, and hosts the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit Red Wings’ top minor league affiliate.

Their respective parent clubs have plenty of postseason history, but this is the first postseason meeting between the Barracuda and Griffins. San Jose swept the regular season series this year, in the franchises’ first meetings since the Barracuda moved to San Jose since 2015.

The Barracuda enter this round as the AHL’s highest-remaining seed, but the Griffins are the league’s hottest team. Grand Rapids has won all but one of its playoff games, outscoring opponents 34-22 along the way.

They’ve done so with a balanced offensive attack. The Griffins boast seven players who have scored eight or more points in the postseason, and the spread among their top seven scorers is just two points behind team scoring leader Tyler Bertuzzi.

The Barracuda, led by AHL playoff scoring leader Ryan Carpenter, have also gotten contributions from all over the lineup, as 13 players have scored at least five points. That includes four of the team’s defensemen (Joakim Ryan, Julius Bergman, Tim Heed, and Nick DeSimone) whereas the Griffins only have one blueliner who’s scored that much (Robbie Russo).

San Jose also holds a significant edge in the crease. Troy Grosenick (.920 playoff SV%) has not quite lived up to his Baz Bastien-winning standards this postseason, but has been much better of late, posting a series-deciding shutout in the second round.

Grand Rapids goaltender Jared Coreau (.908 playoff SV%) has not been as strong, but the Griffins have not needed him to be. The team’s scoring nearly five goals per game, enough to overcome Coreau’s 2.64 GAA, the highest of all remaining postseason goaltenders.

The Griffins, though, have plenty of experience on this stage. Coreau is one of eight Grand Rapids players that suited up in the Griffins’ last run to the Conference Finals in 2015.

Three of those players (Mitch Callahan, Brian Lashoff, and Nathan Paetsch) played on the Griffins’ Calder Cup-winning squad in 2013. While head coach Todd Nelson is making his first appearance in the Conference Finals with Grand Rapids, it’s his third overall coaching in the AHL.

Yet that edge in postseason experience pales in comparison to Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer’s edge in overall experience. Sommer, the AHL’s all-time leader in wins, is making his first ever appearance behind the bench in a Conference Finals series tonight.