Thursday, May 8, 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Grand Rapids Griffins, Game 1

Texas Stars
48-18-3-7, 106 pts
#1 Western Conference
v.Grand Rapids Griffins
46-23-2-5, 99 pts
#4 Western Conference
Series tied 0-0

May 8th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

All the hype comes down to this. Time to put the words to rest and let the on-ice action do the talking. The best team in the West two years running, and now the best in the league, takes on the defending champion. The two most recent winners of the Coach of the Year trophy duel in a chess match for the ages. It will be a command performance. If you don't plan on being there, you're wrong.

As preparation for this series, I went back and read all four game recaps that I wrote about the contests between these two teams over the year. I would recommend you take a look at a few of them (Nov 29, Nov 30, Jan 24, Jan 25).

Some things that I noted that had slipped my mind over the past few days included the goaltending. Jack Campbell, who is slated to play game 1 tonight, has yet to face the Griffins this season. The goaltenders of record for Texas this season against GR have been Cristopher Nilstorp, Allen York and Josh Robinson (2). Robinson is the only one with a win. Texas allowed four goals in that contest but still won by scoring six of their own. In all, Texas has been outscored 18-12 in the season series, putting their goals against for the matchup at 4.50 per game. Simply put, that won't cut it in the postseason. Texas will be putting their best talent on the ice in net and beyond, which will help, but the Griffins can score in bunches. They had 3.13 per game on average, eighth in the league. Texas was ranked second at 3.61. However, the Griffins have solid defense to go with those scoring ways, ranking second in goals against at 2.46 per game. Texas is seventh at 2.59.

It doesn't look to be a series that will be decided with a slew of 2-1 games. It could be more of a 4-3 and 5-4 score type series.

In terms of who to watch on the other side of the ice, Doug Lidster named a few players specifically. Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco were assignments from Detroit at the end of their postseason run and made immediate impact against Abbotsford. Both played in two games and had a goal and assist each. AHL All-Rookie squad member Teemu Pulkkinen leads the team up front witih two goals and three assist in their four contests. "Heart and soul" winger Jeff Hoggan had a three point game in Game 4 against Abbotsford to power his squad past the Heat. He ranks second on the team in postseason scoring.

The Griffins are also victims of the waiver rules as Texas is with their postseason roster. Luke Glendening, who collected 12 points in 18 games with Grand Rapids before call up to Detroit, will not return to the squad for the postseason.

In net, the Griffs return Petr Mrazek, who took them to the Cup last year. The second-year man has a 1.72 GAA and .936 SV% in the postseason so far, playing all of the series against Abbotsford. His regular season numbers improved from his championship season and his postseason numbers are trending that way as well.

On the Texas side, Brett Ritchie does not appear to be ready for the Stars. He has not skated in practice since before the playoffs began. The rookie winger's spot on the line with Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden was occupied by Toby Petersen and Scott Glennie in round 1. In Round 2, practice showed Kevin Henderson on that line. Petersen slid down to the "Czech-ing" line with Radek Faksa and Matej Stransky. Glennie found his place on a line with Chris Mueller and Dustin Jeffrey, a combination that proved potent (when together) in the regular season. Texas looks to have three very solid scoring lines and a fourth line, if you can call it that, that is not going to have to be as heavily sheltered from tough minutes as most.

It's unclear what to make of the special teams matchup in this game. Texas is tops in the league on the power play and third on the PK. Grand Rapids ranks seventh on the power play and fifth on the PK. It would seem to favor Texas, but the margins are so thin. Then again, isn't that how playoff games are won? By the thinnest of margins?

More reading:
Stars injury/call up report:
Ritchie, Hulak, Klingberg (injury)

Website: griffinshockey.com
Twitter: @GriffinsHockey
Blog: Griffins Hockey on MLive.com

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