After something of a hellish road trip, the Grizzlies returned to the Maverik Center hoping to get a much needed win on home ice.
The game began well with the Grizzlies getting their first shot right off the faceoff, but the following five minutes were very much a back and forth affair, and the Grizzlies’ passes didn’t quite seem to be hitting tape in the beginning.
Unfortunately, Rapid City would strike first at 5:32 as a laser shot found its way past Ryan Faragher. The Grizzlies responded with ferocity, but narrowly missed the net.
About the halfway point of the period, Jon Puskar got in on a 2-on-1, and scored on a beautiful shot to tie up the game.
Just a few minutes later, Evan Stoflet took a huge shot from the point, but his stick shattered, and the play went the other way. Immediately afterward, however, Erik Bradford got in all by himself, and deked out Rapid City goalie Austin Lotz right in the blue paint to put the Grizzlies up 2-1 at 11:52.
Shortly thereafter, Puskar found himself in the box for roughing, and the Grizzlies’ penalty kill went to work in a businessman-like fashion. Faragher made a huge glove save, deflecting a dangerous-looking shot up and over the top of the net right as the penalty kill ended.
With just 2:47 left to play in the period, Mike Banwell got off a gorgeous shot from the point that found its way to the back of the net via the sticks of Bradford and Johnny McInnis, giving the newcomer his first goal at the Mav, and putting Utah up 3-1.
The Grizzlies came out hard in the second period, getting some sustained pressure in the offensive zone, and showing off an excellent cycle game.
However, at about the two-minute mark, a Hail Mary pass sprang Brayden Low all alone into the Grizzlies’ end. Phil Pietroniro made a diving attempt to tie him up, but only succeeded in tripping Low, who went sprawling into Faragher. The goaltender remained in the game, and Pietroniro went to the box for tripping.
The Grizzlies killed off the penalty without trouble, and about two minutes later, Brett Perlini went to the box for hooking against the speedy C.J. Eick.
Rapid City killed off the penalty, and at 7:47, Erik Higby took a slashing minor. Unfortunately, the Rush scored on the man advantage, as Josh MacDonald, a former Grizz player, tipped the puck in past Faragher.
Just shy of the halfway mark, Evan Stoflet, Anthony Colins, and Triston Grant got tied up along the boards, and Colins and Stoflet dropped the gloves. Stoflet and Colins both got five for fighting, and Stoflet and Grant both got two for roughing.
Just about a minute later, Ryan Walters (also a former Grizz) put a terrific shot through Faragher to tie up the game.
Rapid City took a penalty behind their own net to give the Grizzlies a power play at 11:52, but though both Mathieu Aubin and Tim Daly got big shots off, they were unable to capitalize.
The Grizzlies got another power play at 15:54, and with just seven seconds left, Aubin scored to put them up 4-3. However, before the in arena announcer even had time to finish announcing the goal, Rapid City came in and tied it up all over again.
To start the third, Ryan McKay replaced Faragher in the Grizzlies’ crease.
The Grizzlies started throwing their weight around, to good effect, but Pietroniro was taken down by the Grizzlies net, and though he got up under his own steam, he had to be helped off the ice favoring his right leg. Stoflet took a penalty at 4:26, and the team has a close call as the puck got past McKay, but it hit the post and came back out. Shortly after the penalty kill expired, Pietroniro returned, though didn’t look entirely comfortable the rest of the way.
Just after the nine-minute mark, Mike Banwell scored his first of the year to put the Grizzlies up 5-4. Erik Higby and Erik Bradford got the assists, giving Bradford three points on the evening.
With 2:29 left to go in the period, Rapid City scored right off the faceoff, on an absolute rocket from the point to tie up the game once more.
After all that, the game went to overtime.
The Grizzlies dominated the extra frame, spending the large majority of the time either in possession of the puck, or keeping Rapid City passing the puck around in their own zone.
With 1:26 left in overtime, Banwell scored his second of the game to break Utah’s nine-game losing streak, and started the six-game homestand off with a much needed victory.
“It felt really good to get that win,” said Banwell after the game. “When they came back to tie it late in the third, we were obviously bummed out, but it was good how we rallied and came back and won in overtime, cause we were more than due for that one, so hopefully we can build on that and get some momentum.”
“We need to get the wins from anywhere right now,” he added later.
When asked how the Grizzlies can build on this win moving forward, he mentioned that while Utah got some bounces during the game, their goals were also gritty, the product of some strong net-front presence.
He also pointed out that the Grizzlies played pretty well in Wheeling, and in general lately; a sentiment echoed by Coach Branham.
“Obviously, we’ve been waiting a little long for that win,” Branham said, “But the boys have been playing good hockey. I’m not going to lie, there’s been some adversity and some weird change of events, but we played really good hockey. And tonight … tonight it wasn’t as good, to be honest, we didn’t play as good as we have been, but the boys wanted it. We faced a lot of adversity today, even some that the fans probably don’t know about, and for the boys to pull together and find a way was just awesome.”
When asked what it means to him that the Grizzlies continued to play hard throughout the nine game losing streak, he added: “it means the world, especially for me as a coach. When you lose that much in a row, it’s tough to keep their attention. They’re a great group of guys, they’re really fun to be around, they battle hard for each other. They never gave up, that’s for sure. They never gave up.
“We gotta savor this moment, we had a lot of success earlier this season, and we’ve finally got that feeling back. We’ve just got to build off of it.”
Of Banwell Branham said “he’s extremely important to this team: he plays against top lines, power play, penalty kill, he plays a lot of minutes. Obviously for a guy that’s played in the American League, we expect a lot out of him, and he delivers.”
He certainly did last night, with an assist and two goals, including the OT game-winner.
As to Faragher, and whether or not we’ll be seeing him on the ice tonight, Branham could only say that the team will re-evaluate today, and see how things go for tonight’s rematch.
The game starts at 7 PM, and as it is Star Wars Night, the Grizzlies will be wearing these awesome Storm Trooper jerseys which will be auctioned off after the game!