In the first of Utah’s three games in Colorado, the lineup saw a little bit of a change up, as Zac Larraza returned to the Grizzlies after having spent most of the season thus far with the San Diego Gulls. Marc-André Lévesque also made his debut in a Grizzlies’ jersey, and Ryan Faragher got the start.
Erik Higby got the Grizzlies on the board first at 3:58, on a gorgeous shot from the right circle, with assists from Austen Brassard and Larraza.
Unfortunately, Utah had no time to rest on their laurels. The Eagles answered with two goals in 61 seconds less than a minute later, and the Grizzlies found themselves in desperate need of some more offense. The first goal was off a wild scramble and repeated rebounds that eventually beat Faragher, and the second off a takeaway and a big shot from Sam Jardine.
Colorado continued to press after their two goals, but Faragher turned aside multiple two-on-ones, and other chances, while the Grizzlies scrambled to get their bearings.
Matt Garbowsky made it 3-0 with a wrap-around at 11:08, and Faragher narrowly prevented a 4-0 deficit immediately after. Martin Nemcik and Sean Zimmerman took a penalty after the ensuing scramble. Colin Martin took a tripping minor a few minutes later, but Utah killed off their first short-handed situation of the game, silencing the best power play in the league.
The Eagles got a second go on the man advantage after a slashing call on Travis Howe at the very tail end of the period. Erik Bradford nearly capitalized on a turnover all alone in front of the Eagles’ net, but Clarke Saunders dove out of to make the save
At the end of twenty, Colorado led 3-1, and the shots were tied at 11 a piece.
Despite starting the second on the penalty kill, Ralph Cuddemi had a spectacular chance by himself as the Eagles’man-advantage ended, and Larraza, Brassard, and Cam Reid had a shift that started a brief stretch of Utah possession at about the seven minute mark. On the other end, Faragher continued to turn aside some dangerous Eagles’ opportunities.
Cuddemi made it 3-2 as the puck hit Saunders on the 2-on-1, and then bounced into the net at 10:28. With 7:33 left in the period, Utah was outshooting Colorado 21-15.
Despite drawing their first power play of the game with 3:06 left in the frame, Utah was unable to capitalize, and Martin took a high-sticking penalty with less than two left to go, sending the teams to a brief 4-on-4, and then an Eagles’power play.
Aubin and Higby both had chances on the penalty kill, but it would be Bradford who tied the game short-handed on a beautiful buzzer beater. Utah outshot Colorado 15-5 in the frame, and 26-16 overall after forty.
Utah killed off the remainder of the Eagles’ power play to start the third, and then they had to weather some Colorado pressure. Faragher made a couple of key saves, and the Grizzlies pushed back, getting a very nice shot off a Cuddemi drop-pass to the trailing Pietroniro. There was another very close call when the puck trickled through Saunders in the blue paint, but Teigan Zahn narrowly beat Pietroniro to the puck and swept it out of danger.
Colorado pressed for large portions, but the Grizzlies got a few counter-punches that forced Saunders to make a few good saves. At 9:01, Brassard and Zahn got sent off with matching cross-checking penalties, and Utah drew a 4-on-3 when Bootland tripped up Larraza by the Eagles’ net.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel got away with a couple of crosschecks on Pietroniro by the goal mouth, but just moments later, Cuddemi scored his second of the game with assists from Bradford and Lévesque.
The pace kicked up a couple of notches in the final six or seven minutes or so, and with just 2:20 left in the third, Alex Belzile tied the game up again. Despite a good response from the Grizzlies, the game went into overtime.
Unfortunately for Utah, after a fast paced 55 seconds, the Eagles got in on a two-on-one, and Jake Marto scored the game winner.
It was not the Grizzlies’ finest performance, though it certainly wasn’t one of their worst either, and the point is a valuable one in the playoff push.
Larraza and Lévesque seemed to fit in fairly seamlessly, which is a major benefit, especially for the defence.
Utah plays tonight (Friday) and Saturday against Colorado, and it is to be hoped that a renaissance in goal-scoring together with more familiarity on defence will lead to a better result.