Detroit – The Grand Rapids Griffins hoped to have a long, successful playoff run.
That would have given the Red Wings’ prospects playing in the minor leagues valuable experience, competing in pressure-filled games and learning to win in the postseason.
That was the hope. But reality set in Sunday, in the first-round of the AHL playoffs.
The Griffins went into Chicago in the deciding game of a best-of-five series and lost 4-2 to the top-seeded Wolves.
So, top prospects such as forward Filip Zadina, and defensemen Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski, were limited to five playoff games worth of experience.
And the chance of forward Joe Veleno or defenseman Jared McIsaac possibly arriving from junior hockey late in a Griffins’ playoff run will not happen.
“Are we disappointed? Yes,” Griffins coach Ben Simon said after the Game 5 loss. There’s an empty feeling in that room."
The Griffins did extend their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to seven years – but for a second consecutive year were eliminated in the first round.
Zadina, Cholowski and Hronek were the three primary young players most Wings’ fans were focused on in this playoff series.
Zadina, last June’s first-round pick, had three points (two goals, one assist) in the series – and all three points came in Game 3. Zadina had only seven shots in the series and a minus-2 rating.
Cholowski had two assists in the series and was plus-1, while Hronek had three assists and an even rating.
Hronek was assessed 28 penalty minutes in the series, most coming in the turbulent, fight-filled Game 3, and a misconduct penalty in Game 4.
“Some guys, from Day 1 to the end of the year, absolutely improved and it was a good experience for them to play playoff hockey,” Simon said.
All three prospects will contend for jobs with the Red Wings’ in training camp in September.
Grand Rapids had a 2-1 lead in the series. But the Griffins’ special teams – a sore spot late in the regular season as Grand Rapids went winless in nine games – weren’t good enough in Game 4 or Game 5.
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Grand Rapids had a 1-0 lead after one period Sunday, but saw the Wolves score four consecutive goals to take control.
“We got sloppy with our play, a little undisciplined, and you can’t do that,” Simon said. “You can’t put yourself in those situations.”
The Griffins were without forward Dominic Turgeon for Games 4 and 5 and forward Givani Smith for Game 4 due to suspensions from the Game 3 fights. They were missing veteran defensemen Brian Lashoff (the final three games) and Dylan McIlrath (Game 5) because of injuries.
“It’s really disappointing because you look around the locker room and we have such a good team,” forward Colin Campbell said. “We have so much depth. This is as good a team as we’ve had. That’s why it makes this so frustrating.”