GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Emotions ran high in Van Andel arena last night. Elimination games bring everything out to the forefront and all of that anxiety, anger, and fear can be a slippery slope. The San Jose Barracuda had lost the previous two games, the first time they’d lost back to back this playoff run. Sitting on the brink of elimination, they were frustrated.
They had every right to be. For large parts of the game, and this series, the Barracuda have out-played and out-shot the Griffins and still found themselves playing from behind.
When Brian Lashoff scored for Grand Rapids on the first shot of the game, only 24 seconds in, he knocked the wind out of the San Jose and they never really recovered. Despite controlling play, getting three power play opportunities, and out-shooting the Griffins 41-26, they just couldn’t crack Griffins goaltender, Jared Coreau.
A standout performance by Tim Heed at the blueline wasn’t enough to hold back the Griffins’ offense. When they had the puck, they were dangerous with it. Troy Grosenick faced less shots and allowed more goals in this series, closing it out with an .879 SV%.
The Griffins had San Jose figured out. Watching the Barracuda, their play-making is excellent and they’re so good at maintaining control in the offensive zone. The Sharks hockey system is built top to bottom in the organization.
But as Sharks fans learned this season, it can end up predictable, and suddenly the top guys aren’t the ones scoring anymore. The system can still be productive in creating offense, but every chance is predicted and stopped. Throw in shutting down the power play and the league’s top scorer of the post-season, mix in an incredible goaltender, and suddenly it doesn’t matter that the Cuda consistently out-played them. The Griffins had their number from the start.
I talked to Timo Meier, who scored the first of the Barracuda’s two goals last night, after the loss about the series.
FTF: After your goal, did you feel like there was a big momentum shift?
Timo: No. I think it was good to get the goal, but obviously we were down two goals at that time. It was definitely a step in the right direction but we weren't able to keep going from there. We obviously gained some momentum, but we weren't able to finish it.
FTF: This series has been really physical. How have you personally played into that?
TM: Yeah, the deeper you get in playoffs, obviously there's some more emotions. Both teams want to win, so you do everything for it. But, you know, they're a big, heavy team, they play hard. They made it hard on us. For me, obviously I'm trying to stay being smart about it. Sometimes the emotions are there and you might not make the right decision, but I think overall it was a great run for our group and I think we played well. We ran into a really good team here.
FTF: Do you feel like there was a major focus on keeping the higher scoring guys off of the scoresheet, guys like Carpenter?
TM: Yeah, yeah, it's always like that in playoffs. You want to take away the guys that are scoring goals, you don't want to give them time and space. That's what it's all about in playoffs. It's what you have to do to win and they did a good job on a lot of guys. They didn't give us a lot of space, didn't give us time, and made it hard on us.
FTF: Can you talk about the difference between this and the series with [the Sharks]?
TM: The further you go, the harder it gets. [The Sharks] are a older team, they have a lot of veteran guys on the team. They have a lot of experience. We're a young group, but I think it's great for us to learn. Like I said, every series, every round you get further in playoffs, it's gonna get harder.
The Barracuda’s Calder Cup run ends with a 4-1 series loss in Grand Rapids. It’s a tough loss to swallow, but as Marcus pointed out last night, there’s still plenty of reason to feel hopeful. This team has never looked better.