Just 19 months after losing the first 10 games in franchise history, the Utica Comets are headed to the Calder Cup Finals.
Cory Conacher scored his third goal in the last four games and Jacob Markstrom made 21 saves as the Comets defeated Grand Rapids, 2-0, in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals before another capacity crowd at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday night.
The Comets will face the Eastern Conference champion Manchester Monarchs in the 2015 Calder Cup Finals, beginning Saturday night in Manchester, N.H.
Despite two power plays for each team, the first period of Game 6 was scoreless, the third time in the last four contests that Utica and Grand Rapids were 0-0 through 20 minutes.
Shots on goal in the opening frame were 9-6 in favor of the home team.
Early in the second, Cal O’Reilly carried the puck out of the Comets end, through center ice and into the offensive zone before dishing it off to Conacher, who snapped a one-timer from the top of the right-wing circle that beat Tom McCollum to open the scoring.
Conacher’s third goal of the series and fourth of the playoffs made it 1-0 at the 3:16 mark of the second and would prove to be the only offense the Comets would need. The assist for O’Reilly was his league-leading 15th of the postseason.
The Griffins had two more power plays in the second period, but only managed four shots on goal in the frame. Shots were 22-10 for the Comets after 40 minutes.
With about 4:30 remaining in regulation, Markstrom made a point-blank stop on Teemu Pulkkinen, who scored a league-leading 14 goals in the playoffs but just one in six games against Utica.
McCollum went off for an extra attacker with just over two minutes left, but the Griffins could not gain control of the puck and Alexandre Grenier hit the empty net from center ice with 1:14 to play, making it a 2-0 final.
Markstrom (11-7), who also had a shutout in the Comets’ series-clinching win over Oklahoma City in the conference semifinals, made 11 of his 21 saves in the third period and finished the series with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in six games against a Griffins offense that had averaged 3.70 goals per game through the first two playoff rounds.
McCollum (9-6) finished with 27 saves on 28 shots in Game 6.
Grand Rapids, 7-for-21 on the power play through the first five games of the series, went 0-for-4 in Game 6. Utica was 0-for-3.
Attendance was 3,835, the 10th consecutive playoff sellout at the Aud.
Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
1-Utica Comets vs. 2-Grand Rapids Griffins
Game 1 – Sun., May 24 – UTICA 2, Grand Rapids 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 25 – Grand Rapids 4, UTICA 2
Game 3 – Thu., May 28 – Utica 4, GRAND RAPIDS 1
Game 4 – Fri., May 29 – GRAND RAPIDS 3, Utica 2 (OT)
Game 5 – Sun., May 31 – Utica 3, GRAND RAPIDS 2
Game 6 – Tue., June 2 – UTICA 2, Grand Rapids 0