The Grand Rapids Griffins have won their first Calder Cup.
Brennan Evans broke a 2-2 tie 9:54 into the third period and Petr Mrazek made 24 saves as the Griffins claimed the American Hockey League championship with a 5-2 victory against the Syracuse Crunch in Game 6 of the Calder Cup finals at Onondaga County War Memorial Arena on Tuesday night.
Grand Rapids raced out to a 3-0 lead in this best-of-7 series before Syracuse responded with back-to-back victories to get the series back to Syracuse. The road team won five of the six games in the series.
"We'll do it wherever," Griffins coach Jeff Blashill told Time Warner Sports. "We knew it was going to be a real hard series. We knew Syracuse had the heart of a champion. Those are tough close-out games, for sure. Our fans will enjoy this just as much. I know our guys are obviously enjoying it. It's well deserved by our guys – just a great group of character guys."
The Crunch had the only goal of the first period, as Richard Panik beat Mrazek at 17:15 for his ninth goal of the playoffs to give the Crunch a 1-0 lead. But Grand Rapids, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, tallied a pair of goals in the second as Mitch Callahan scored at 2:23 off a feed from Landon Ferraro before Tomas Tatar beat Cedrick Desjardins (20 saves) via the power play at 12:41.
Syracuse, the top minor-league affiliate for the Tampa Bay Lightning, evened the score at 2-2 at 5:14 of the third period on Andrej Sustr's second goal of the postseason.
Tatar sealed the championship for Grand Rapids with an empty-net goal at 19:11 of the third. Joakim Andersson added another empty-net goal with six seconds left.
Tatar, Detroit's second-round pick (No. 60) at the 2009 NHL draft, finished the Calder Cup playoffs with 16 goals and 21 points and was named the Most Valuable Player of the AHL's postseason.
Only three teams in AHL history have rallied to win a playoff series after losing the first three games. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins became the third when they did it against the Providence Bruins in the second round this year. It has never been done in the Calder Cup Final.
"There was definitely some scary moments, going home and not being able to close it out in front of the home fans," Evans said. "But this is the way we've done things all year – the hard way. It's just a testament to the character of these guys and the great job the coaches did."
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