Saturday, May 7, 2016

Watching A Game That Actually Counts: Monsters 4 - Griffins 3

Daniel Zaar With the Game Winning Goal
Today we journeyed to Cleveland to join my buddy Mike, a long suffering Cleveland sports aficionado to take in Game 2 of the Lake Erie Monsters second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.  The Monsters were facing off against the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit AHL affiliate, and with names like Cleary and Bertuzzi on their roster this was familiar stuff for Blue Jackets fans that made the journey.

Tragically, the thing that was unfamiliar for Blue Jackets fans was seeing a game in which the outcome actually counted for something.  Jackets fans have watched a lot of hockey since October, 2015, the last time the NHL franchise played a meaningful game.  So it was fun and refreshing to see these Monsters ply their trade in a playoff atmosphere.

First of all, the folks at the Q (Quicken Arena) pulled out all the stops, and put on a good show.  Secondly, we got to watch a compelling hockey game, with lots of texture.  It started out swimmingly for the Monsters, when Sonny Milano scored by deflecting the puck in off his skates as he was slamming on the brakes going into the crease.  It was not a DKM (distinct kicking motion) and the goal stood the review.   Then Steve Hemminger scored on a really sweet tic-tac-toe passing play to make it 2-0 Monsters, and all was well.

Then in the waning moments of the first period, the Griffins ramped up the physicality, and the Monsters started drawing penalties.  So all of a sudden a late period penalty kill for the Monsters becomes a 5 on 3 for the Griffins.  They promptly scored on the 5 on 3, to make it 2-1 at the end of one.  This was a demarcation point for approximately 20 minutes of hockey where the Griffins really dominated the play.  At the 2 minute mark of the second period, Grand Rapids tied the game, and then with about 15 minutes gone in the second period they took a 3-2 lead, and things looked bleak for the Monsters.  However, there was a lot of hockey left to be played.

Late in the second period, and on into the third period, the Monsters started to slowly tilt the ice back their way.  Just before the 15 minute mark in the third, Lake Erie generated a really nice chance at a screened Griffins goal tender, but he blindly stuck his glove out and the puck found his glove.  Immediately thereafter, the Monsters repeated the play, quickly moving the puck around behind the net, and Trent Vogelhuber found Ryan Craig with time and space in front of the net, and he did not allow the goal tender a chance to glove it, going top shelf for the tying goal.  This gave Lake Erie great momentum, and less than 2 minutes later, Daniel Zaar buried the game winner.  But before it was over the Monsters had to kill a 6 on 4 penalty, as the Griffins pulled the goal tender.  But Joonas Korpisalo was strong in goal, and they preserved the win to take a 2-0 series lead against Grand Rapids in the best of 7 series.

This was a great team win for the Monsters, with lots of contributors.  It was a really fun game in a hopping atmosphere.  And, as an added benefit we got to watch the guy who was in charge of game operations sweating the possibility of overtime, as there was an arena football game in the Q that night at 7.  A couple of OT periods could have really put some pressure on that, but the Monsters just went ahead and won in regulation.

A 2-0 lead in a best of 7 series is nice to have, but it won't get you anywhere.  If you want to get somewhere, you need to win on the road, and the series returns to Grand Rapids now.  It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.  What a great opportunity for the guys developing in the organization to experience a playoff.

It was fun to watch a game that was actually counted towards some outcome other than draft position.  Let's hope we see a few more of those in Columbus next year.


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