IN THE HOLE
After back-to-back losses, the Heat now find themselves in a deep hole that will take nothing short of sheer determination to get out of. Down 2-0 in a best-of-five series, Abbotsford must win three straight games in Grand Rapids to keep their Calder Cup hopes alive.
Game 1 of the series proved to be a heartbreaker for the hometown Heat. Despite outshooting the Griffins 56 to 41, the Heat fell 2-1 in double overtime action.
Sophomore pro, Brett Olson opened the scoring for the Heat at 11:44 of the first period as he buried Sven Baertschi's rebound into a wide open net. The second period saw a relentlessly dominating period from the Heat as they outshot their opponent 15 to four. However, Petr Mrazek stood tall for Grand Rapids.
With Joni Ortio just 6:23 away from his first post-season shutout, Mattias Backman utilized some fancy stick-work to dance his way around rookie Emile Poirier and snipe it top shelf from the slot to level the scoring at 1-1.
After nearly 40 minutes of back-and-forth end-to-end action in extra time, Griffins' defender Ryan Sproul ended it with just 34 seconds remaining in double overtime to take game one.
Mrazek, the 22-year-old Czech net-minder, had a jaw-dropping evening stopping 55 shots in a marathon victory. In the opposite crease, Ortio had an equally impressive outing, turning away 39 shots on 41 attempts.
The Heat's fourth ranked power play struggled on the night as they failed to convert on their six chances, including a pair of two-man advantages.
Game 2 concluded with an upsetting and bewildering result as the Heat were rocked 7-2 by the Griffins, which included six unanswered goals by the visitors.
Despite Grand Rapids controlling the play from the outset, Emile Poirier notched his first professional playoff goal off a Max Reinhart rebound to give the Heat the lead. Minutes later, Grand Rapids' Trevor Parkes levelled the scoring. At 15:32 of the period, Reinhart picked up a power play marker from Markus Granlund and Chad Billins to give the Heat a 2-1 edge.
However, that would be it for the Heat's offense on the night as the Griffins' Andrej Nestrasil and Cory Emmerton made it 3-2 heading into the first intermission.
In the middle frame, captain Jeff Hoggan scored 2:02 into the period while Nestrasil collected his second of the game midway through, spelling the end of Joni Ortio's night in goal. Doug Carr saw his first professional playoff action in a relief effort. In the third period, game one's overtime hero Ryan Sproul made it 6-2 while rookie Teemu Pulkkinen added a late marker.
Discipline played a key part in the Heat's struggles as they totalled 54 minutes in penalties.
Granlund and Reinhart each collected two points in the loss.
The Heat will now travel to Grand Rapids, MI for must-win games 3, 4 and 5. Game 3 will take place on Wednesday at 5:00 PM MST.
POINTS FOR POIRIER
Rarely does a teenager explode onto the professional hockey scene like Emile Poirier did in the last two weeks.
In just his first two professional games, the Montreal native notched two goals and two helpers. He also picked up a goal in just his second playoff game. To some, this was a pleasant surprise, but to Heat head coach Troy G. Ward, the rookie's early success was far from unexpected.
"To some of us it wasn't a shock," said Ward. "The one thing we knew about him showing up here is he would have blazing quickness and speed. His giddy-up and go from zero to ten is really fast. That was part of his goals and his success. His hockey sense and his stick, we felt he could play.
"In general, as far as producing points - not too shocking for me that he did what he did, especially in game two looking at who he played with. I hoped that he would get here and I could put him with [Max Reinhart] and [Markus Granlund] because he was my missing link to [Paul] Byron … Poirier will get 30 in the NHL. He'll be a 30-goal scorer."
One can't overlook the importance of Poirier's linemates in his early success. In his first game, he played alongside veteran sniper Ben Street. In his second game, he lined up with Heat leading scorer Max Reinhart and flashy rookie Markus Granlund as the three players combined for seven points.
"They helped me out a lot," Poirier said after Thursday's practice. "They're very intelligent in their games. They helped in my games and just made me feel confident."
"He's a one or two line centre - he's a centreman, slash-winger, slash-winger," Ward explained. "He can play all three spots. I just see him as a top-6 forward and I see him as a top-6 forward in the NHL, so I have to put him in a spot for him to be successful. The one thing with [Granlund] coming back in his second game with [Reinhart], I wanted to put Poirier with speed because I felt he plays best with speed."
As the post-season presses on, the Flames' 2013 first-rounder hopes to improve upon what has been outstanding start to his professional career - and to Poirier, there's no better time to sharpen his skills for next season than during the high-pressure Calder Cup playoffs.
"I've learned a lot and I think I'm going to learn more in the playoffs," he said. "I think it's just the experience with the guys out here. It's great to see that and I'm going to carry it all over to [training] camp next year."
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