On a snowy Saturday night, the Grizzlies faced off again against the Rapid City Rush in the second of a mammoth five game series.
Utah wasted no time getting the first goal, as Phil Pietroniro got his first of the season, tapping the puck into the empty cage at 1:11. Jon Puskar and Kenton Helgesen drew the assists.
Mike Banwell took the team’s first penalty but the Grizzlies kept Rapid City chasing the puck, and as Banwell’s penalty expired, Taylor Richart drew a holding call.
Back to back games against the same opponent are always fun, and this game was no exception as Sam Windle and Triston Grant dropped the gloves at 7:33.
The Grizzlies got another power play at about the nine minute mark, as Brayden Low slashed the stick out of Tim Daly’s hand, but the Grizzlies struggled to get set up, and nothing came of it.
At 12:52, Michael Young put beat out a sprawling Richart and Redmann to tie the game up, and Puskar took a hooking penalty almost immediately afterwards.
The shenanigans continued as a crowd gathered at the Grizzlies’net, and Rapid City negated their power play as Daly went to the box for roughing, while Triston Grant got a double minor, also for roughing.
The Grizzlies pounced on the opportunity, Ralph Cuddemi and Erik Bradford tore up the ice, and Bradford scored his third goal in two games.
Banwell took another penalty, this time for highsticking, after a big defensive play that put the puck just past a wide open net. However, Rapid City negated their power play as Logan Nelson tripped up Martin Nemcik at the Grizzlies’ blue line about a minute later.
Utah went in for the kill as Cuddemi scored on the power play, putting the Grizzlies up 3-1 with 1:41 left to play, collecting his third goal in two games. Just over a minute later, Mathieu Aubin got in on the action, putting the Grizzlies up 4-1, and Bradford collected his third point of the night.
The penalties continued as Michael Pelech took a highsticking penalty just 24 seconds into the second, but the Grizzlies were able to kill it off, even fighting to get a short handed goal as Adam Morrison was caught out of position.
Rapid City negated the power play as Grant boarded Pietroniro behind the Grizzlies’ net. Pietroniro was slow to get up, but remained on the bench, and Utah set up camp in the Rush’s end.
Several minutes later, the Grizzlies were off on what would have been a glorious up ice rush, when the refs called Travis Howe for elbowing. He and the crowd were furious, and Howe got an additional ten. The Grizzlies, however, went to the kill with a vengeance, getting a short-handed rush from Bradford. Utah got some good passing going, but took one too many and weren’t able to beat Morrison.
With 12:10 to go in the period, Puskar put the Grizzlies up 5-1, scoring his tenth of the year through an absolute throng of players, and making him one of six Grizzlies with 20 or more points on the season.
Rapid City got one back just past the half way mark, as Redmann was beaten by a perfect passing play.
The Grizzlies were put a bit on their heels after that, though the Grizzlies’ defense played quite well. Pelech blocked a shot with 3:25 to go, springing Bradford who got in all by himself. However, he was unable to beat Morrison. Puskar almost set up Evan Stoflet shortly thereafter, but to no avail. Unfortunately, it would be Rapid City who scored with just fifty seconds to play, narrowly beating a sliding Redmann. After 40, shots were 22-17 for Utah, who still led 5-3 going into what promised to be a very exciting third period.
Rapid City came out and immediately established themselves in the Grizzlies’ end, and camped out there for most of the first half of the frame or so.
With about twelve to go in the third, Howe and Grant tried very hard to drop the gloves, but the refs were quite firm that there would be no fight. Howe got four for roughing, and Grant got two, much to the displeasure of the crowd.
On the ensuing penalty kill, Rapid City made it 5-4 with eleven minutes to go, as Redmann made the initial save, but the puck landed in the crease, and Riley Weselowski put the puck in behind him.
The Rush did not take their collective foot off the pedal, and the pace around the Grizzlies’ net was nothing if not frantic. Utah ran into trouble, icing the puck several times — though fortunately not immediately in a row, and with five minutes left to play, the game was definitely tense.
With 1:30 to go, Rapid City pulled their goalie, and Pietroniro just missed the shot at the empty net. With just 30.7 seconds left in the period, Rapid City completed the comeback, tying it up on the 6-on-5, and the game went to overtime.
The Rush largely controlled the first minute or so of the extra frame, before the Grizzlies took possession.
At 2:48, Cuddemi took Daly’s pass from behind the net, delayed, and beat Morrison for his second game winning goal in as many nights.
Cuddemi, like Bradford on Friday, emphasized the simple things: “I’m just trying to go to the net, and finish my checks, and try do all the little stuff.” he said. “I feel like if I can play defense in all three zones, it makes it easier for myself to get scoring opportunities, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
He was also quick to give credit to his teammates: “I’m playing with some really good line mates, which definitely helps out, and I mean, it’s easy to score when the team is rolling, and everyone’s confidence is up, everyone is feeling good on the bench. It goes to 5-5 and we’re still positive, and we still believe in ourselves. That’s something important that kind of changed from a little bit earlier on in the season until now.”
Confidence was the watchword of the day, and despite the relinquished lead, that is definitely something the Grizzlies have had on their side in the past couple of games.
“The most important thing is that we got the two points” said Tim Branham after the game. “I mean as a coach, that’s all I care about.” He later added: “I just told the boys forget about it. We got the two points, that’s the most important thing. We’re climbing in the standings, we’re going to make playoffs if we continue to play the good hockey that we played in that first, and the first half of the second period. I’m not worried about that, we’re not going to think about it any more.”
He had nothing but praise for the big four who put up a combined 16 points in two games: “Raphie’s been on fire, Bradford’s been on fire, Pelech, Aubin, those guys have really carried the load, we’ve just got to keep it up. They’ve just got to continue to lead by example, and good things will happen.” In addition to those four, the Grizzlies have gotten secondary scoring from players like Tim Daly who now has seven goals and eighteen assists, which puts him fourth in the league in points among defensemen.
And they’re doing all that without players like Cam Reid, Colin Martin and Erik Higby, which has forced them to be creative at times, but Branham likes how the team has risen to the challenge: “I feel really good about the team right now. We’re playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger, from top to bottom. We’ve battled through a lot of injuries…. We had D playing forward, and playing four D, five D at a time, guys are hurt… so there’s a lot of adversity we faced there. The boys battled through and got two points.”
At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
The Grizzlies are now headed to Rapid City where they will play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday before returning to the Mav to play Idaho on Monday.