The last time the Grizzlies were in Alaska, they were swept in three straight. But that was a team mired in the midst of what would be a nine game losing skid near the bottom of the standings. They returned to Sullivan Arena on a seven game winning streak within striking distance of a playoff spot.
With Tim Daly still out, and Erik Higby healthy, the Grizzlies went with eleven forwards and five defensemen again, and Ryan Faragher got the start.
Both teams exchanged early penalties, and Idaho struck first on the power play with 14:33 left in the period. Immediately afterwards, Travis Howe and Garet Hunt dropped the gloves, both getting in some heavy punches before being separated.
The Grizzlies proceeded to have difficulties hanging onto the puck, as Alaska picked up ten shots to Utah’s five, but Faragher calmly closed the door. At 8:39, an Alaska player socked Taylor Richart in the face, and the Grizzlies objected. Martin Nemcik and Yan-Pavel Leplante were sent off, and the teams played four-on-four.
The Grizzlies gave up a couple of really good chances as they had difficulties in front of their own net, but Kenton Helgesen plucked the puck out of danger, and Phil Pietroniro set up Higby for a good chance, which drew a power play.
Jon Puskar had the most dangerous chance of the man advantage, but Utah was unable to capitalize – though they did close the gap in shots.
Utah pushed the pace a bit after that. Erik Bradford got in on a breakaway, Michael Garteig made the save, Bradford kept the puck, leading to a few more Grizzlies chances. Moments later, Nemcik was tripped up in the offensive zone, sending Utah back to the power play at 3:45.
With 52 seconds left in the first, Faragher made a save, and a crowd gathered around the net. Nemcik and Hunt were both sent to the box after the kerfuffle, and the period ended four-on-four. After one, the Aces remained ahead 1-0, outshooting Utah 17-14.
The Grizzlies started the period with a couple of very good shifts in the offensive zone, and Higby showed no signs of rust, tying the game up just over two minutes into the second.
Austen Brassard took a tripping penalty after that, and the Aces got all sorts of chances, but Faragher, Helgesen and Nemcik kept Alaska at bay. Alaska owned the puck after the power play, but Faragher was stellar, and the game remained 1-1.
The game settled down after the penalty expired, and it wasn’t until the final five minutes that things picked up again. Daniel Moynihan took an interference penalty, and Michael Pelech made it 2-1 just fifteen seconds into the man advantage. The Puskar line, which had been buzzing all night, nearly made it 3-1 mere moments later, and then again in the dying seconds of the period.
After forty, shots were 31-29 for Alaska, but Utah held onto the 2-1 lead.
Scarcely had the third period started when Puskar and Shattock took matching minors, and just seconds after that, Reid was high-sticked. The Grizzlies got a couple of looks, and then Higby took a holding penalty, sending the game to 3-on-3, then 4-on-4 before an Alaska power play.
Around the half-way point, the Grizzlies got caught in their own end for quite a long time, and Stephen Perfetto made it 2-2. The game continued to be tilted in Alaska’s favour, as they held the shot advantage 44-33. Unfortunately, Puskar missed the puck at the top of the blue paint, and the play came back the other way, where Wallace made it 3-2.
Utah pulled Faragher for the extra skater in the dying minutes of the game, but unfortunately no sooner had he made it to the bench when Alaska scored into the empty net.
Alaska scored another empty net goal with less than ten seconds to play, but Utah was saved by the clock, which never started, and the goal was called back.
Ultimately, Utah fell 4-2, outshot 49-35.
On a positive note, Bradford now has points in ten consecutive games, Faragher looked terrific, stopping a season-high 45 out of 49 shots, Pietroniro, Puskar, Bradford, Navin, and Richart all had four shots a piece, and were among the Grizzlies’ best over the course of the game.
With the loss, the Grizzlies are now back to six points out of a playoff spot, and the games tonight and Friday become that much more important.