The third time is the charm. The Grand Rapids Griffins won their first Calder Cup on Tuesday night, defeating the Syracuse Crunch, 5-2, in Game 6 of the American Hockey League's championship series at the Onondaga County War Memorial at Oncenter.
The Griffins, who led the series 3-0 with two chances to close out the title on home ice, instead celebrated in front of a capacity crowd of 6,375 fans in Syracuse.
It is the first league title in the 17-year history of the Griffins franchise, including the last 12 as members of the AHL and the last 11 as the top development affiliate of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings.
Tomas Tatar, who scored twice in the Game 6 clincher, won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the Calder Cup Playoffs after totaling 21 points — including a league-best 16 goals — in 24 games.
Under first-year head coach Jeff Blashill, the Griffins eliminated the Houston Aeros (3-2), Toronto Marlies (4-2) and Oklahoma City Barons (4-3) before defeating Syarcuse in the Finals. Grand Rapids' 2013 playoff roster featured eight players who appeared in the NHL with the parent Red Wings this season.
After staving off elimination with road wins in Games 4 and 5, the Crunch got on the board first on Tuesday with 2:45 left in the first period as Richard Panik pounced on the rebound of Matt Taormina's shot at the top of the crease and buried it behind a fallen Petr Mrazek. It was Panik's fifth consecutive game with a goal, and his ninth goal of the postseason.
Grand Rapids made it 1-1 at 2:23 of the second period as Mitch Callahan got a couple of whacks at a pass from Landon Ferraro and finally chipped it past Cedrick Desjardins.
The Griffins grabbed the lead, 2-1, on a power play with 7:19 to go in the period as Tatar banged home the rebound of a Gustav Nyquist shot.
The third period opened at a furious pace, and with their season on the line the Crunch tied things up at 2-2 with 14:46 left as Andrej Sustr blasted a one-timer from the center point off a pass from Vladislav Namestnikov.
Brennan Evans' long shot from the left-wing point got through traffic and beat a screened Desjardins with 10:06 remaining, giving the Griffins a 3-2 lead. It would prove to be the Cup-winning goal.
Tatar and Joakim Andersson added empty-net goals in the final minute to seal the 5-2 victory and the first Calder Cup championship by a Red Wings affiliate since 1992.
Mrazek (15-9) stopped 24 of 26 shots in the victory, while Desjardins (13-5) finished with 20 saves on 23 shots in defeat.