As the playoff horizon is ever-looming, one gets the feeling of urgency in the air when entering the Van Andel Arena. Amidst the chatter of the entering crowd, I could overhear the usual discussions of the loyal Grand Rapids Griffins following; injuries, recent changes to the roster, who is where in the standings and so on. A sold-out crowd piled in the front doors to watch their boys battle on the ice and get one step closer to bringing the Calder back to Hockeytown West. Not only was tonight going to be a duel between the current number one and number two teams in the Central Division, but it was the return of the Detroit Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard recently sent down for post-injury conditioning. The expectations were great and the excitement in the air was even greater.
The Admirals’ started off the scoring with a circling precision and catching goaltender, Howard, off guard. The Admirals, constantly circling and constantly attacking, tallied another goal less than 5 minutes later. It was 10:45 into the first period when the Griffins answered back with a precisely placed shot from Kyle Criscuolo off a feed from Svechnikov and Bertuzzi. To the crowds’ dismay, the Admirals were not long in their response, scoring just two seconds remaining in the first period. The trend continued for the remaining two periods. As minutes melted away to seconds, one goal was answered with another in a volley-style of play, the Admirals skated away with another win. Ending the night with a final 5-4 score, the Admirals moved a few more points up in the standings. Still below the Griffs, but closing the gap.
As it stands, the Griffins have a great shot at a playoff spot and Calder contention however, the intensity I saw in the third period from them, the push, the plays, the aggressive attack and peppering Saros, the Admirals’ netminder, is the intensity that they will need to tap into for all sixty minutes of every game. With a GAA of 1.76 currently, it became clear to me that Saros is not going to be easily defeated. The Griffins crafted each play with timing and intention, but couldn’t connect. The urgency felt in the crowd entering the building and the buzz of anticipation did not seem to translate into the first and second period. The Admirals have shown themselves to be formidable foes. Rising to the challenge early on, they were on the attack. Penalties were killed off efficiently by their perpetual aggressive circling; never letting the Griffins to hang on to the puck for more than a few seconds at a time.
Coming into the home-stretch of the regular season, no team can afford relaxed play. The feeling of urgency needs to be the driving force behind every action on the ice. Perhaps it already is – no doubt the locker room is murmuring the same sentiments. I will do the Griffins the justice of saying that when it comes to the grind of the game, no one knows better than the team, what needs to be done. Every team has “off nights,” every team has incredible nights; its the nature of the beast. With the playoffs in their sites, every team will push to rise to the challenge and the hometown crowds will be in the stands, supporting their boys from start to finish; regardless of outcome.