Calder Cup Finals Preview – Grand Rapids Griffins vs Syracuse Crunch

For the second time in five years, the Grand Rapids Griffins have earned the opportunity to play in the Calder Cup Finals. They are up against a familiar foe, as the Syracuse Crunch (affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning) have earned the finals berth from the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference.

When the Griffins made the franchise's first appearance in the Calder Cup Finals during the 2012-13 season, they were also matched up against the Crunch. Grand Rapids won the series 4-2, and current Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar earned the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Crunch finished the regular season with a 38-24-7-7 record (90 points). They defeated the St. John's Ice Caps (WPG) in four games (best-of-five series) in the opening round of the playoffs, before taking down the Toronto Marlies (TOR) in seven games. They then topped the Providence Bruins (BOS) in five games to secure their spot in the Finals.

Their top-scoring forward, and team-leading scorer in the playoffs, has been right wing Cory Conacher (undrafted, nine goals and 11 assists) in the team's 16 playoff games.

On the blue line, their top scoring defenseman has been Matt Taormina (undrafted, four goals and 12 assists). In goal, Mike McKenna (sixth-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2002) has turned in a record of 11-5 in the playoffs, with a 2.51 goals against average and a save percentage of .915. Head coach Benoit Groulx is in his first season as coach of the Crunch, and has 111 career regular season wins in the AHL. The team has never won a Calder Cup championship, and their only appearance in the finals was during the aforementioned 2012-13 series when the team fell to Grand Rapids.

As for the Griffins, the team finished the regular season with a record of 47-23-1-5 (100 points); the third-most wins in the AHL this season. They put together a relatively smooth playoff road, defeating the Milwaukee Admirals (NSH) in a three-game sweep in the first round before dispatching the Chicago Wolves (STL) and San Jose Barracuda (SJS) in five games in each of the next two rounds to clinch a Western Conference crown.

Left wing Eric Tangradi (second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, two goals and 13 assists) and center Ben Street (undrafted, four goals and 11 assists) are the leading scorers among forwards for the team, as well as overall.

Defensemen Joe Hicketts (undrafted, one goal and five assists) and Robbie Russo (fourth-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2011, no goals and six assists) have led the way offensively for the team among their blue-liners. Goaltender Jared Coreau (undrafted) has a record of 11-2 in the playoffs, with a 2.41 goals against average and save percentage of 92.2%. Head coach Todd Nelson is in his second season as coach of the Griffins, and has won 277 games as a head coach in the AHL.

Both teams are a +20 in the goal differential department this postseason (SYR: 60 GF, 40 GA | GR: 53 GF, 33 GA). In the regular season however, the Crunch were just a +5 in goal differential (232 GF, 227 GA), while the Griffins were a +61 in that category (251 GF, 190 GA), only Wilkes-Barre Scranton (PIT) had a larger discrepancy in goals scored and allowed on the season.

Here is a breakdown of the schedule for the Calder Cup Finals. Should you be unable to make any of the games out in Grand Rapids, you can watch the Griffins and Crunch here on AHL Live online for free, following the instructions with your account and promo code provided:

Game 1 Friday, June 2 7pm EST @ Van Andel Arena | Grand Rapids
Game 2 Saturday, June 3 7pm EST @ Van Andel Arena | Grand Rapids
Game 3 Wednesday, June 7 7pm EST @ Oncenter War Memorial Center | Syracuse
Game 4 Friday, June 9 7pm EST @ Oncenter War Memorial Center | Syracuse
Game 5* Saturday, June 10 7pm EST @ Oncenter War Memorial Center | Syracuse
Game 6* Tuesday, June 13 7pm EST @ Van Andel Arena | Grand Rapids
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 7pm EST @ Van Andel Arena | Grand Rapids

*If necessary