Grand Rapids goaltender Petr Mrazek, a 21-year-old rookie from Czechoslovakia, has cooled off the highest scoring team in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Mrazek posted his second consecutive shutout, stopping all 37 shots Sunday afternoon to lead the Griffins to a 3-0 win over the Oklahoma City Barons in front of 3,135 fans at the Cox Convention Center.
By winning Game 5, the Griffins take a 3-2 series lead back to Grand Rapids.
Game 6 is scheduled Tuesday night in Grand Rapids. The Barons must win to force Game 7, which would be played Wednesday night in Grand Rapids. The winner will play Syracuse for the American Hockey League championship.
“Our team has done it the hard way all year. Why stop now?” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “We have a lot of heart and character in that locker room. We've always found a way to come out on top.”
To come out on top this time the Barons must find a way to get the puck past Mrazek, who hasn't been scored on the past eight periods, a streak of 163 minutes, 25 seconds.
The last time Mrazek surrendered a goal was when the Barons scored three first-period goals in a Game 3 win. The only other goal OKC has scored since then was Jonathan Cheechoo's empty-netter at the end of Game 3.
“He's been the difference for them,” said Barons defenseman Taylor Fedun. “But it's not like we're not putting a lot of shots on net. We've had quality chances, too. He's been outstanding.”
The Barons have outshot the Griffins by 47 shots in the series (175-128) but Grand Rapids has been the only team to light the lamp the past two games.
“Give him credit, but we have to bear down on our chances,” said Barons forward Philippe Cornet. “We're missing easy goals we normally don't miss like backdoors and tap-ins. We've some how found a way to miss shots we normally score.”
Detroit's fifth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Mrazek is showing why he could be the Red Wings' backup goalie next season.
Against a Barons team that's scored a Calder Cup-playoff-high 51 goals, Mrazek has posted a 1.40 goals against average in the series with a remarkable .960 saves percentage.
Mrazek stopped all 40 shots Saturday night and all 37 shots on Sunday to help the Griffins move to within one win of the AHL finals.
“We have to continue to drive to the net, but we also have to pounce on rebounds,” Fedun said. “We also have to shoot for corners. A lot of our shots hit him in the chest. He's had good positioning. But we've had some good opportunities.”
All three Grand Rapids goals in Game 5 were scored the final five minutes of the second period.
Joakim Andersson, who played most of the season with Detroit but was reassigned to the Grand Rapids last Thursday, the day after the Red Wings were eliminated in the NHL playoffs, supplied the key assist on two Griffins' goals.
After Tomas Jurco put Grand Rapids up 1-0, Andersson set up Mitch Callahan for a momentum-swinging short-handed goal with 2:48 left in the second period. Andersson also had the helper on Thomas Tatar's power play goal with 32.7 seconds left in the period.
“We played hard, but we beat ourselves,” Nelson said. “The first goal was a turnover. The second one was short-handed, which is unacceptable. And then we overreacted on the power play goal. You can't leave a guy like Tatar alone. He'll bury that.”
The Barons feel they have the offense to rally and win the series. OKC has four of the top 10 scorers in the playoffs. Mark Arcobello, Teemu Hartikainen, Toni Rajala and Josh Green all have scored 12 or more points.
“We've fanned on pucks. We've had open nets we didn't capitalize on. We've had backdoor plays,” Nelson said. “We just have to bury our opportunities. If we play like this and capitalize on our opportunities we'll be fine.”