Lose the special teams battles, and a hockey team will usually lose the hockey game, too.
That’s what happened to the Grand Rapids Griffins Wednesday in Syracuse, adding up to a 5-3 loss, in Game 3 of the AHL Calder Cup Finals.
The Griffins saw their 13-game playoff streak of scoring a power-play goal come to an end.
Plus, the Griffins’ allowed two Syracuse power-play goals – while taking nine penalties during the game.
The undisciplined play was a main topic of conversation among Griffins coach Todd Nelson and players afterward.
“We can’t take that many penalties, especially when we have something going,” Nelson told reporters after the game. “We shot ourselves in the foot, and going against a good team like Syracuse, you’re going to lose.”
The Griffins are 13-3 in the playoffs, and interestingly, the three losses have a common theme.
“Every game we’ve lost, we’ve lost the special teams battle,” captain Nathan Paetsch said. “You win the special teams battle, you usually win the game.”
The special teams will be a main area the Griffins attempted to clean up Thursday ahead of Game 4 on Friday and Game 5 on Saturday at the War Memorial Arena (game times are 7 p.m.).
The Crunch, incidentally, are now 10-0 in the playoffs on home ice, capitalizing on the intimate, rowdy crowd at their 6,000-seat home rink.
If necessary, Games 6 and 7 are scheduled for Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on Tuesday and Wednesday, both at 7 p.m.
“We knew coming in here they’re undefeated (at the War Memorial) and they gave us two real good games at home,” Griffins forward Matthew Ford said. “We got that one (Game 3) behind us, we have a day to regroup, and we have another opportunity.
“We still have home-ice advantage.”
But the Griffins know they must play better, and especially not have a parade to the penalty box, which could let Syracuse gather more momentum in this series.
“We had a pretty good start but we have to be smarter,” Nelson said. “Every time we’d get something going, we took a penalty. You have to be more disciplined. We can’t take that many penalties.”
Nelson acknowledged the atmosphere at the War Memorial may have affected the Griffins, at least early in the game. The War Memorial is the rink where some scenes of the hockey cult classic “Slap Shot” was filmed.
It’s a throwback, minor-league rink where fans are right on top of the action, and the home team can feed off the enthusiasm.
Griffins veterans Paetsch, Mitch Callahan and Brian Lashoff played there during the 2013 Calder Cup Finals – but Wednesday’s game was a new experience for the rest of the Griffins.
“The three players who had been here before, they knew what it would be like,” Nelson said. “Everybody else, it was something new. You have to get used to it.”
Calder Cup Finals
Syracuse vs. Grand Rapids
All games at 7
Game 1: Grand Rapids 3-2
Game 2: Grand Rapids 6-5 (2OT)
Game 3: Syracuse 5-3
Friday: at Syracuse
Saturday: at Syracuse
x-June 13: at Grand Rapids
x-June 14: at Grand Rapids