Utah Grizzlies: A Real Nail-Biter

February is a big month for the Grizzlies. They play twelve games exclusively against the teams they’re chasing for a playoff spot, and all but three of the games are on the road. In this first of three games against the Idaho Steelheads Mathieu Aubin drew back into the lineup, as did Kenton Helgesen, replacing C.J. Eick and Carlos Amestoy.

Neither team dominated through the opening minutes, athough Idaho did have a slight edge in attempts until about the five minute mark. To no one’s surprise, the Grizzlies’ best shift of the early period came from the Brad Navin-Jon Puskar-Austen Brassard line, who was excellent throughout.

Idaho struck first at 8:39 as Utah was unable to clear the zone, and Jefferson Dahl beat Ryan Faragher.

However, the Grizzlies tied up the game at 12:29 when Cam Reid tipped Phil Pietroniro’s point shot past Brenden Komm. Just over two minutes later, the Grizzlies repeated the play, though this time Reid got Pietroniro’s shot to Erik Bradford, who scored his tenth of the season.

Unfortunately, Michael Pelech took a penalty for charging the goaltender in the crease, and Idaho capitalized on the ensuing power play at 17:10.

After 20, the teams were tied at two,  shots were 12-9, and Reid, Bradford and Pietroniro found themselves with a pair of points a piece.

Chances continued to pile up for Brassard, who got his fifth shot of the game with 15:55 to go in the second, and Utah drew a power play as Idaho got dinged for delay of game.

Things did not go at all to plan, though, as the Grizzlies gave up a short-handed breakaway, and Andre Bouvet-Morrissette put Idaho up 3-2.

Utah responded with a terrific shift in the offensive zone, which Taylor Richart capped off with a goal, and just a few minutes later, Colin Martin got his fifth goal in as many games on the power play.

Idaho pressured after Martin’s goal, but Bradford and Pelech got in two-on-one with under four minutes left in the period, and Pelech put Utah up 5-3.

Utah finished the period on the power play, outshooting Idaho 28-19, and still leading by two.

The first half of the third period was pretty even, both teams getting chances and working hard, but Idaho made interesting as Bouvet-Morrissette made it 5-4 on his second of the night, and Pelech took a tripping call at 14:15.

With 1:41 left, Puskar and Joe Bassaraba were sent off with coincidental minors, and Idaho elected to pull their goalie. However, Richart scored into the empty net with eight seconds to go, giving Utah the 6-4 win.

There are not many nights where you can point at a Grizzlies’defenseman and say “He had a better night than Tim Daly,” but tonight may just have been such a night.  Pietroniro was terrific on both sides of the ice, serving as a catalyst for several excellent Utah chances, and making a number of good defensive plays in addition to the two first period points.

It was a good night for multi-point games in general; Richart’s empty netter gave him his first multi-goal game as a pro, Reid got a goal and an assist, and Bradford’s four point night won him second star of the game.

Also fun to note, Brassard had 10 shots, and Faragher picked up his third assist of the season on Richart’s first goal.

This was a huge game for Utah in their hunt for a playoff spot, especially since Alaska also lost 5-2 against Colorado. Utah now trails Alaska by six points, though the Aces do have two games in hand.

The two teams will face off again on Friday and Saturday in Boise, where Utah hopes to continue their push for the playoffs.


Photo courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies

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