Late goal pushes Grand Rapids Griffins over the top in game one 3-2 victory over the Syracuse Crunch

Penalties took their toll.

What happens when the league’s most penalized team takes on the team with the best powerplay in the league? It’s safe to say we found out the answer to that question as the Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Syracuse Crunch, 3-2, in the first game of the Calder Cup Finals on Friday night.

Syracuse handed over six man advantages on the evening, and while the Griffins would only capitalize on one of them, it would prove to be the dagger. But how did we get to that point?

Grand Rapids came out of the gate firing. Crunch starting netminder Mike McKenna was put to the task early and often and less than five minutes into the opening period, Grand Rapids struck. Tomas Nosek crashed the net and was able to collect the rebound off of a Mitch Callahan shot and bury it into a wide open right side of the net.

Just as many Crunch fans were starting to get that “not again” feeling, the good guys would net the early equalizer. Syracuse headed to their first penalty kill of the game because of a Yanni Gourde slashing minor but the tides were quickly turned with a shorthanded tally. Cory Conacher and Kevin Lynch entered the attacking zone on a 2-on-1 where Lynch was able to easily knock the puck past Griffins goaltender Jared Coreau to tie the game.

The solid play kept coming for a while for the boys in blue. Less than a minute into the middle frame, the good guys found paydirt yet again. Yanni Gourde made a few impressive moves to get around four chasing defenders and hit a streaking Joel Vermin who made no mistake about it, giving the Crunch a 2-to-1 lead. With the primary assist on the play, Gourde now has 18 points in the playoffs.

The Crunch was able to hold on to the lead for the majority of the period thanks in large part to another incredible performance in goal by Mike McKenna. The Griffins peppered the Syracuse net with 16 shots in the stanza and a total of 36 in the contest. Late in the period, one of those shots would get through the veteran netminder to knot the game at two. Former Syracuse defenseman and Grand Rapids captain Nathan Paetsch found himself wide open in the high-slot and sniped a rocket of a shot into the back of the twine.

As has been the theme for Syracuse all season long, lack of discipline in key moments proved to be their downfall. A too many men on the ice minor put the Griffins on the man-advantage for the sixth time of the evening with under 30 seconds to play in regulation and of course, they lit the lamp.

Syracuse will have a chance at redemption on Saturday night in game two at Van Andel Arena.