The Grizzlies came home after a fairly successful Florida road trip, looking to continue picking up points. Ryan Faragher once again got the start, Gabriel Verpaelst made his home debut, and Travis Howe again dressed as Utah iced eleven forwards and five defensemen.
The early minutes of the game saw action and hard skating from both teams, but Colorado picked up six of seven shots in the opening few minutes, and struck first 7:21 into the frame.
Sean Zimmerman went after Jon Puskar after the latter got a shot in on Clarke Saunders, and a crowd gathered, as they often do in Grizzlies/Eagles games. Utah came in hot after the following media time out, and drew the first penalty of the game. Harrison went to the box for slashing with 9:37 to go, but the Grizzlies were unable to get properly set up, and Colorado scored on a short-handed breakaway a minute later.
They got some offensive zone pressure to end the power play, but Cam Reid’s stick broke as he went to take a shot from the point, and the man advantage came to an end.
With six minutes left in the period, Utah was already spotting Colorado 12 shots, and there was a fair bit of stick and door slamming at the bench.
Though the Grizzlies had a few good shifts and chances in the offensive zone, especially from the Puskar line, Faragher still had to make a huge save with 14 seconds left in the period. After twenty, the Eagles still led 2-0, and supposedly outshot Utah 13-6, though there were definitely some shots that were not recorded.
The Grizzlies came out hot to start the second, though there were some nearly costly defensive turn overs, but 4:11 into the period, they got the power play as Darryl Bootland came in hard after Faragher made a save, and the Utah defense took exception.
There was a bit of a delay as the ice crew needed to repair a chunk taken out of the ice with about 13 minutes left to play in the second. Coming off of the delay, Puskar, Howe, C.J. Eick, and got the Grizzlies some good opportunities. Michael Pelech, Mathieu Aubin, and Ralph Cuddemi followed it up with a good shift of their own, and with 11:02, Eick drew a penalty. Unfortunately, Erik Higby took a slashing penalty, and Matt Garbowsky scored 14 seconds into the ensuing 4-on-4.
Utah continued to get chances, including a great shot from Cam Reid, who beat Saunders but couldn’t hit the net.
With 6:51 left to play, Puskar was taken down in the offensive zone. The Maverik Center held their breaths as both the Grizzlies’ and Eagles’ athletic trainers tended to him. He was taken off the ice on a backboard as a precaution, and thankfully, at the end of the night it was announced that he was going to be ok.
Cuddemi and Reid both got chances on the power play, once the game resumed, as the Grizzlies held the zone for a large portion of the man advantage. However, after the power play expired, the defensive coverage again fell apart, and Matt Brown scored over a sprawling Marc-André Lévesque.
Howe got a cross-checking minor, and off the next puck drop, Aubin and Garbowsky both got sent to the box for slashing and cross-checking respectively.
The Grizzlies’ penalty kill continued to be excellent, killing off the minor penalty, with 1:39 to go.
But the eventful second wasn’t over yet.
Phil Pietroniro was stapled to the boards in the corner behind the Grizzlies’ net, and Howe had enough, collaring Jackson Houck, and eventually trading punches with Zimmerman in what turned into a free for all.
Howe was given two for roughing, five for fighting, and a ten minute misconduct. Zimmerman got a two minute rough, and the Grizzlies had a five minute penalty kill on their hands.
Cuddemi got a short-handed breakaway, and was tied up, resulting in a penalty shot. Unfortunately his backhander was gloved by Saunders.
After 40, shots were 21-12 for Colorado, who led 4-0.
With over three minutes of penalty killing time to start the third, Utah closed ranks, and kept the Eagles puck-chasing.
With 1:45 left in the penalty kill, Bootland cross-checked Pietroniro in the corner, and Pietroniro retaliated. Both were sent off for roughing, and en rout to the box, Verpaelst grabbed Bootland and got in a few punches, sending him to the ice, joining the others in the bin. Both Bootland and Verpaelst got five for fighting.
The Grizzlies drew another penalty with 17:20 left to go, as Johnny Lazo went off for goaltender interference. However, 20 seconds in, Utah negated the 4-on-4 when Eick went off for tripping. The Grizzlies killed off the 4-on-3 and the ensuing 4-on-4 before the Eagles took a holding call with 15:09 left in the second that sent Utah back to the power play.
Colin Martin got a great chance in alone, but missed the net, and was shortly afterwards put into the boards by Teigan Zahn, which gave the Grizzlies a 5-on-3 power play. Aubin got a spectacular chance at a wide open net that somehow didn’t go in, but the Grizzlies kept going. At 7:54, Austen Brassard put the Grizzlies on the board tipping in Reid’s shot from the doorstep on the man advantage.
Then Cuddemi scored his 27th of the year from Tim Daly at 9:45 on a beautiful shot, and the arena came alive with half a period left to play.
The Grizzlies worked hard after the goal, coming quite close to solving Saunders on a number of occasions, but the Eagles were not without chances of their own, which Faragher turned aside.
The Grizzlies spent a lot of time in the Eagles’ end in the last five minutes, as they took advantage of two icing calls, and pulled Faragher for the extra skater. Utah got their chances, and with 1:27 to go, Lazo and Daly were sent off with matching minors.
Utah kept Faragher on the bench for the extra skater, but with eight seconds to go, Harrison scored into the empty net.
“To be honest, I think the difference was just goal-scoring.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We had a penalty shot, we missed, they had a breakaway they scored on. We probably had three or four empty nets that we didn’t score on where their goalie is making a diving save, in last minute, [last] second desperation. To be honest, we had pretty good chances. I don’t think the shot clock was correct, I know I counted four or five shots throughout the game that they didn’t even give us credit for, so it wasn’t as lopsided as you think, but we had our scoring chances.
“We had some scoring chances that we missed the net on, but the empty nets kill you. We literally had empty nets that we didn’t put in, and then the penalty shot. That kills you. that can be a totally different game when you put those in, so I didn’t like some of the goals that went in on us, as far as a team effort, I thought we could have done things to prevent them, we’ve gotta make sure that those little small things don’t cost us.”
“Obviously you gotta try a little harder, and bear down a little bit more. We’re going to put that one behind us. It stings, that’s for sure. We’re going to put that one behind us. Tomorrow’s the biggest game of the year, so we’ve gotta make sure that everyone is on board.”
Utah squares off against the Eagles again tonight (Saturday), and will be wearing their special Military Appreciation jerseys which will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Salt Lake City Fisher House.