April 30, 2015
TORONTO – Teemu Pulkkinen has feasted off the Toronto Marlies this season and he’s showing no signs of letting up in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Pulkkinen scored twice on Wednesday to lead his Grand Rapids Griffins to a 5-2 victory over the Marlies in Game 3 of their best-of-five first-round series, cutting Toronto’s lead down to 2-1.
The 23-year-old winger, who the Detroit Red Wings reassigned to the Griffins 24 hours before Game 1 of the AHL Western Conference quarter-final, now has five goals in the series to lead all post-season scorers.
“He’s a special player,” said Marlies coach Gord Dineen.
When you add in regular-season statistics, Pulkkinen has found the back of the net nine times in six games against Toronto while averaging five shots on net per outing.
Dineen recognizes Pulkkinen’s goal-scoring ability any time he has the puck in the offensive zone, but admits that with Grand Rapids having other offensive threats that shutting down the Finnish forward isn’t an easy task.
“They have a lot of depth in their lineup, they shuffled some lines around and it showed,” said Dineen.
“It was tough as far as matchups, certainly when you’re on the road. They do have some pretty special players through their lineup so it’s tough to key in on one guy.”
Pulkkinen, who also plays both sides of special teams, had another great opportunity for a third goal on Wednesday when he was awarded a short-handed penalty shot after being hauled down in the second period by defenceman T.J. Brennan. Goaltender Christopher Gibson, a fellow native of Finland, shut him down though as Pulkinnen tried to put his right-handed shot low blocker-side.
“He’s a Finnish guy so he probably knew my moves, so I tried to do something different and he saved it,” said Pulkkinen. “Then I tried to go high glove the next one and I was lucky it went in.”
Dineen and the Marlies aren’t the only team that’s had trouble this season trying to contain Pulkkinen.
He led all AHL scorers this season with 34 goals in just 46 games. His goals-per game ratio of 0.74 is the highest since Alexandre Giroux scored 60 in 69 games in 2009. Prior to his last call-up by the Red Wings, Pulkinnen had been on a tear, producing 22 goals in 21 AHL contests.
Marlies captain Troy Bodie returned to the lineup for Game 3 after missing the past 11 games with a hand injury suffered April 1 against the Chicago Wolves.
He played right wing on the fourth line alongside centre Sam Carrick and winger Matt Rupert and opened the scoring for Toronto 6:33 into the contest.
“He’s a heart-and-soul-type guy and you know what you’re going to get from him,” said Dineen, happy to have the veteran back in the lineup. “The effort’s always there.”
Toronto trailed 2-1 after 40, but the Griffins scored two quick goals in the third period to open up the game. Mikkelson responded with a late goal for the Marlies but an empty netter sealed the victory for Grand Rapids. Gibson stopped 25-of-29 shots in defeat.
Playing in Grand Rapids this season hasn’t been kind to Toronto and third periods have been a disaster.
In three games at Van Andel Arena, the Marlies have been outscored 19-5 – 8-1 in the final 20 minutes – and dropped all three contests.
Game 4 goes Saturday and won’t be any easier. With Detroit being eliminated from the NHL playoffs, Grand Rapids could get a boost to its roster. Forwards Tomas Jurco and Landon Ferraro, defenceman Alexey Marchenko and goaltender Petr Mrazek are all eligible to return for the Griffins, however it’s very unlikely to see all four sent down.