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Why It Matters For Grand Rapids Griffins to Stay in Playoff Race

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Alex Nedeljkovic, GR
Alex Nedeljkovic's strong goaltending has helped the Griffins stay in the hunt for the AHL playoffs

NHL general managers will testify to the value of American Hockey League playoff experience for prospects making their climb to the parent club. Grand Rapids Griffins fans understand that.

When Grand Rapids won the Calder Cup in 2016-17, Tyler Bertuzzi’s strong playoff run provided evidence that he was closing in on the NHL. Tomas Nosek was also top playoff goal scorer on that Jeff Blashill-coached Griffins championship team and he’s in his eighth NHL season with the Boston Bruins.

Playing meaningful games down the stretch, and in the postseason, is important for development.

That’s why it matters that the Griffins have played their way back to the edge of the AHL playoff race. After beating the Cleveland Monsters Thursday, the Griffins are now eight points out a playoff spot with 13 games remaining. The Griffins (57 points) have two games in hand against the Iowa Wild (65) and the Rockford IceHogs (65). They own the final two playoff spots in the AHL’s Central Division.

The Griffins (3-0-0-1 in their last four games) have an important home-and-home series against the Milwaukee Admirals tonight and Sunday. The Admirals are in second place in the Central Division.

It certainly hurts that Griffins that the Red Wings had to call up defenseman Simon Edvinsson and forward Austin Czarnik on an emergency basis Friday. But that comes with the territory of being an NHL team affiliate. Every farm team deals with that issue.

The Griffins did get a boost from the Red Wings when goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was sent to the team in January. Goaltending had been an issue for the Griffins before Nedeljovic’s arrival.  The Griffins have a .483 points percentage on the season, but Nedeljkovic is 12-8-3 with Grand Rapids. He owns a 2.73 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

Division Games Coming Up

Edvinsson has received much of the fan attention because he was a No. 6 draft pick in 2021, but defenseman Albert Johansson has had a consistently strong season for the Griffins. He is two years older than Edvinsson. He could have been the defenseman called up. However, Johansson has missed the past five games with an unspecified injury.

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“I don’t know how many options they have down there, even on NHL contracts,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. “I think it was obvious (to take Edvinsson). I wasn’t in those conversations, but I wasn’t surprised following them of late, that it was Simon, especially with Johansson, who’s playing extremely well, being injured.”

When asked whether Johansson would be back this season, Lalonde said: “I don’t know. I think he’s on a week to week basis.”

Elmer Soderblom, who started the season with the Red Wings, hasn’t played the last three games for the Griffins. The Griffins haven’t said why he isn’t playing. He has five goals in 20 games for Griffins this season.

The Griffins have an outside shot to qualify for the playoffs. Their remaining 12 games are against Central Division teams. They play the Iowa Wild and Rockford IceHogs twice each. They play the Chicago Wolves three times.

 

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