The San Jose Barracuda’s record-breaking season ended tonight at Van Andel Arena in a Game 5 Western Conference Finals loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins. Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan’s slump-busting goals were not enough to prolong the series, as the Griffins clinched their second-ever Calder Cup appearance.
San Jose started slowly unlike the last two games, and trailed by two goals after the first period. Brian Lashoff put Grand Rapids on the board 24 seconds into the game, and Matthew Ford doubled that lead with just under four minutes remaining in the period.
Timo Meier gave the Barracuda life a minute into the second period with his fourth goal of the postseason, and his first since May 10th. Buddy Robinson forechecked hard, centered a loose puck into the slot, and Meier snapped a shot past Griffins goaltender Jared Coreau’s glove to cut Grand Rapids’ lead in half.
10:40 later, the Griffins’ power play made the Barracuda pay, just as they had all series. Matt Lorito doubled Grand Rapids’ lead with the Griffins’ sixth power play goal of the series.
Lorito’s first goal of the game did not immediately put the game out of reach, but his second surely did. Less than five minutes into third period, Lorito gave the Griffins a three-goal lead on his seventh goal of the postseason.
Trailing by three goals for most of the period, the Barracuda controlled play for large stretches, and outshot Grand Rapids 17-7 in the third. O’Regan’s goal-scoring drought, which was as long as Meier’s, ended when he cut the lead to two goals with 4:31 remaining.
Head coach Roy Sommer, who was seeking the first Calder Cup appearance in his distinguished career, pulled goaltender Troy Grosenick with 3:12 remaining in the third period. But, O’Regan’s goal was the game’s last, and San Jose’s season ended with a 4-2 loss.
Grosenick struggled tonight, and allowed four goals on 26 shots. The Baz Bastien Award Winner managed an .879 SV% in the series, far below the standards he set this regular season.
While Grosenick floundered, Griffins goaltender Jared Coreau flourished. Coreau stopped 39 of the 41 shots he faced tonight (.951 SV%), and 158 of the 168 he saw during the series (.940 SV%).
Coreau frustrated Ryan Carpenter, who set the Sharks AHL affiliate record for most points in a postseason (17). But Carpenter failed to score in each of the series’ last two games and fell out of the overall AHL playoff scoring lead.
Grand Rapids maintained an edge on special teams as well, scoring a power play goal goal in each game against San Jose (6/22; 27.3%) and holding the Barracuda without a power play goal in three of five games (19/23 on the penalty kill; 82.6%).
So the Barracuda’s season, in which the team won the division and the conference’s top seed headed into the playoffs, is over, and the question of whether or not they can get back to this point next season looms over the Barracuda.
Carpenter and Grosenick are unrestricted free agents, and at the point in their careers (26 and 27-years-old, respectively) where their best shot at the NHL may come elsewhere. Meier and O’Regan, as well as Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, will likely push for a roster spot up front with the Sharks during training camp. Defensemen Tim Heed, Mirco Mueller, and Joakim Ryan enter restricted free agency, and are at or nearing make-or-break points in their own development, too.
But head coach Roy Sommer showed what he could do with talent at his disposal this season. He’ll likely get at least a small influx of that thanks to the Sharks’ recent European signings, and the continued development of the organization’s own prospects.
For now though, the organization will take solace in the most successful season by the team’s AHL affiliate. That season may have ended, but it could be just the beginning of the franchise’s promising future, led by homegrown, rising talents.
The future’s not looked brighter than this in recent memory. If this season’s any indication, that future could be right around the corner.