Utah Grizzlies: Penalties Kill

After a penalty filled game three that saw the Grizzlies play pretty well, but surrender yet another third period lead, Utah looked to correct the issue.

Cam Reid returned to the lineup, while Phil Pietroniro was placed on reserve earlier in the day, and Marc-André Lévesque drew back into the line-up in his stead. Kevin Boyle once again manned the net, and the Grizzlies’ electric third line of C.J. Eick, Jon Puskar, and Austen Brassard took the opening face off.

Through the first five minutes, both teams picked up two shots, and neither appeared to hold the advantage.

Puskar took a cross-checking penalty with just about ten minutes to go, but between a desperation play by Haar, and some excellent penalty killing, including short-handed chances by Brassard, Eick, and Erik Higby, the Grizzlies killed off the minor.

With 4:36 to go in the first, the Grizzlies went flying up the ice, and in his first game back, Cam Reid made it 1-0 from Brassard and Colin Martin.

Gabriel Verpaelst laid a quartet of thunderous hits throughout the first, to the delight of the crowd, and Eick’s speed got him a one-on-one chance with Gill with 2:02 left to go that he unfortunately was unable to bury.

After 20 the shots favored Allen 15-8, but Utah held the 1-0 lead.

The Grizzlies generated a few good looking chances to start the second, and at 3:58 Daly drew a cross-checking penalty. Utah maintained excellent possession, and puck movement throughout, but despite some scramble-y moments from Gill, they were unable to capitalize.

Ralph Cuddemi also had the chance of a one-on-one with Gill, and also was unable to cash in, and the Americans looked increasingly dangerous in the offensive zone.

Utah had the chance to grab back the momentum when Alex Krushelnyski took a hooking call at 16:47, but to no avail, and at the end of two periods, the score remained 1-0 for the Grizzlies, with Allen holding a 25-17 edge in shots.

After getting only one penalty in forty minutes, the third period did not get off to a very good start as the first shot on net led to a scrum around Boyle. Verpaelst and Josh Brittain were sent to cool their tempers just six seconds into the frame.

To make matters worse, Erik Bradford took a high-sticking penalty less than a minute later to put Utah on the wrong side of a 4-on-3 for 1:30. Boyle and penalty killers were able to fight off the 4-on-3, only for Allen to score with 11 seconds left on the Bradford call.

With 15:13 to go, Brassard was sent to the box on a questionable hooking call, and Allen struck on the power play once again, and the wheels came well and truly off the bus.

Allen added goals at 9:01 and 12:57 on a 2-on-1, and with 4:10 to go in the period, Boyle was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. Allen missed the empty net three times, but with 1:08 remaining, Krushelnyski scored his first goal of the series into the empty cage.

When the buzzer finally sounded, Utah found themselves down 5-1, and on the brink of elimination, out shot 35-30, and out scored 11-0 in the third periods this series.

Reid’s lone Utah goal, and team leading five shots on net earned him third star of the game.

“I don’t have an explanation for it,” Coach Branham said after the game of the rapid deterioration of discipline in the third. “That’s all we talked about in between periods, buying in, and staying disciplined, and then we decide to get tough after a whistle. And then you take two penalties 200 feet from your net. The second one was a horrible call, the hook on Brassard was [an] absolutely ludicrous call, but the high-stick on Bradford, 100% it’s a high-stick. Once again, it’s discipline.

You’ve got to go through it to really understand, so for those guys that have never been deep in playoffs, or never won a championship, they don’t truly understand, and if they don’t listen to what you’re saying, they don’t get it. Taking punches to the head, just that disciplined stuff. You’ve got to play between the whistles, and if you don’t, you roll the dice. We could have had four goals going into the third period, and it wouldn’t have mattered, but that’s not the game. It was 1-0, you’ve gotta be disciplined, and when you go on your own page, bad things happen.”

When asked about whether it has been frustrating to surrender three third period leads, he replied, “Yeah. But at the same token, the discipline is what’s frustrating. It’s not the fact that we’ve had the lead, it’s why you’re losing those leads, it’s through lack of discipline. And you don’t learn from it in game one, game two I thought the referees did a really good job, and then here, we kind of had to battle the referees a little in that period, you can’t give them a reason to call a penalty. And unfortunately, it’s been the same thing in every third period. Discipline. It’s gotta be clear to the guys, and that’s on me for putting the wrong guys in the lineup.”

Saturday’s game is an elimination game, but as Coach was quick to point out, “Anything is possible. By no means are we down and out. If you learn from your mistakes, you’re going to win. Simple as that. I told the boys from the beginning, this series is about us. We’ve had a lead going into every third period. When you’re disciplined, you win. When you’re not, you lose. It’s not that hard to take a punch to the head.”

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming

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Utah Grizzlies: A Costly Lack of Discipline

It’s playoff time at the Mav, and the Grizzlies returned home with a series split to find reinforcements waiting. Taylor Richart made his return to the lineup for the first time since February 17th. With his return, Tim Branham shuffled his defense, Rob Mann remained in the lineup with Tim Daly, Garret Haar, Phil Pietroniro, and Gabriel Verpaelst, while Marc-André Lévesque and Martin Nemcik sat. Cam Reid also did not dress for Utah, while Kevin Boyle once again made the start.

The Grizzlies got an early power play, as Josh Brittain took a boarding call against Mathieu Aubin just moments into the first period, but Allen largely kept the Grizzlies chasing the puck down the ice. Utah got a second crack at the man advantage just moments later as Mike Gunn went off for elbowing at 2:34, but once again, the Grizzlies’ power play was unable to make a difference.

Verpalest took a holding penalty 7:11 into the first, and the Allen power play looked dangerous, but Utah killed it off. The Americans spent a great deal of time in the Grizzlies’ end, but with 6:50 to go, shots were 4-3 for Utah.

Verpaelst yet took another penalty, tripping this time, with 3:45 to go in the first, and the Grizzlies headed back to the penalty kill. Unfortunately, the penalty would prove costly, as the Americans scored with 34 seconds left on the man advantage.

Utah got a big chance on the power play to end the period as Jon Puskar drew a holding call with less than a minute to go in the first, but they were unable to make anything happen before the frame drew to a close.

Utah was outshot 10-6, and trailed 1-0 after 20, but would start the second with 1:15 on the power play.

Utah was only able to get one shot on the power play to open the second, and C.J. Eick took a holding call at 3:04. Fortunately for Utah, Chad Costello took a high-sticking call about thirty seconds into the penalty kill, and the teams played 4-on-4 for 1:32.

With 58 seconds left in the 4-on-4 situation, Austen Brassard struck decisively, tying it up with 15:53 to go. Haar and Erik Bradford drew the assists on Brassard’s second of the playoffs.

Daly took a high-sticking penalty at 7:05, but the Grizzlies pressed well, and had a number of up ice rushes, Eick and Erik Higby both getting especially nice chances.

Brittain hauled Haar down in the defensive zone with 9:14 to go, and the Grizzlies returned to the power play. However, Utah had difficulties maintaining the zone, and Allen returned to full strength with no change in score.

Puskar was repeatedly cross-checked in the offensive zone before the refs finally called it with 4:34 to play, and Travis Howe and Mathieu Aubin were less than amused with the delay in the call.

Brassard got a nice shot on net, and then a crowd gathered as Colin Martin and Dyson Stevenson tangled, both getting two for roughing with 3:42 to go in the period.

The Grizzlies got a 37 second 5-on-3 with 3:11 to go, as Travis Brown put Daly into the boards. Daly appeared to be just fine, and gave Utah the 2-1 lead at 17:31 with assists from from Aubin and Higby.

Richart took a delay of game penalty with 1:55 to go, but at the end of the second, Utah led 2-1.

Unfortunately, Allen made it 2-2 just 2:53 into the frame as Zach Hall beat Boyle. To make matters worse, Daly got a questionable five and a game for spearing at 7:05, and the Grizzlies had to finish the game (and a five minute penalty) without their best defenseman, and primary penalty killer.

The Grizzlies were unable to clear the zone, and Allen made it 3-2 part way through the five minute major. Utah killed off the remainder of the penalty, even getting a chance or two of their own, and with 7:27 to go, they returned to full strength.

Richart laid a couple of big hits, and Higby and Ralph Cuddemi had some nice attempts as the Grizzlies tried to tie up the game, but to no avail.

Pietroniro had a rough go of it through the end of the game, taking abuse from Tyler Barnes and Brittain along the boards with about three minutes left as they battled for the puck. Pietroniro laid a huge hit on Brittain shortly thereafter before being tomahawked by Bryan Moore in retaliation. Moore received a match penalty for cross-checking, and Utah went on to a ten minute power play with 1:20 left, down Daly and Pietroniro. (Moore would later be fined and suspended for four games as a result.)

Utah pulled Boyle with 1:20 left, to go 6-on-4, but they were unable to even up the score, and despite a terrific defensive effort from Richart, Allen eventually scored into the empty net.

Erik Higby was named third star of the game with an assist, three shots, and as the generator of a number of the most dangerous plays in the game. Boyle also continued to have a very strong series, making 28/31 saves, while two of the three goals he allowed were on Allen power plays.

Penalties, and special teams were a big theme after the game. When asked about the Grizzlies’ third period struggles against Allen, Brassard answered:

“I think a big thing is penalties, I mentioned that earlier. They’re so skilled we can’t give them opportunities on the power play, because they will finish. It’s just about keeping on them and sticking with our game plan, just getting it in their zone, keeping on the offense and burning some time down there.”

Coach Branham was emphatic on the subject. “Undisciplined play has cost us game one and game three. We completely shot ourselves in the foot with undisciplined play, and we’ve been talking about it, how that’s going to be the key to this series. If you want to take a punch, if you want to continue to do retaliatory penalties, it’s going to cost us. Champions suck it up. Champions bite the bullet and do what it takes to win. We took way too many penalties tonight. I thought the referee got duped a little in the five minute major. That wasn’t a five minute spearing penalty, that’s for sure, but you put yourself in that position, for them to call it. You’ve gotta be disciplined, and tonight too many penalties cost us.

“No adjustments need to be made,” he said later, regarding the system the Grizzlies played. “Guys just need to have more discipline. Need to stop taking penalties, dumb penalties. I wouldn’t say stop taking penalties if they were good ones. if it’s to keep a goal going in your net, or whatever. But we took five or six penalties from our d-core tonight, and all but one were really dumb. So we gotta to make sure that we have a lot more discipline in the next game.”

When asked about the team’s power play performance, he added, “I thought we generated some good looks. Early on we didn’t, so then we made a couple of adjustments and were able to get some good looks. We missed a lot of plays coming up the ice on the break out, pucks rolling of our stick and what not. Our execution level was not quite there. Obviously we didn’t score more than one, so I’m not as happy as I could be, but at the end of the day I thought we were doing the right things, we just didn’t execute well enough.”

Execution and discipline might have been lacking, but Richart’s return to the lineup, and the continued performance of the Grizzlies’ third line were both bright spots.

 

“It’s really nice to have Richie back. He plays with heart, he plays with character, he skates really well, and he competes. That’s what I want out of all of our d-men. Where you get in trouble as a d-man, where you stop competing, you stop moving. We saw that on three of their goals here tonight. That third line you’re talking about with Puskar, Eick and Brassard, right now they’re our heart and soul. They’re leading by example, and they’re having success because they’re playing the system, they’re playing the game plan that we’re trying to implement. So everyone else has to follow suit.”

“We’re just keeping it simple” Brassard said of his line’s performance. “We have a fast line, so we’re just getting after them, trying to keep it simple, and stick to our strengths.” Their strengths have seen them pick up ten points in three games.

The Grizzlies are down 2-1 in the series now, but they remain undeterred. After all, a bit of adversity is nothing new.

“We’re pretty confident. We’ve had the lead in all the games, so it’s just about not getting too down. We’re pretty confident with how we can do against this team, so turn the page, and come ready to go next game.” Brassard’s statement has an entire season of proof to back him up.

Utah looks to once again tie up the series tonight (Friday) in what is bound to be an eventful game.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming.

 

Utah Grizzlies: All Tied Up

After having lost game one in a disappointing fashion, the Grizzlies looked to even up the series in game two against Allen. Kevin Boyle once again got the start, Colin Martin returned to the lineup, and Rob Mann drew in for Martin Nemcik. The Grizzlies were also without Zac Larraza who was called up to play for San Diego.

The early minutes of the first period were a fairly back and forth affair, with only three shots total through the first five minutes. It became evident quite early on that the C.J. Eick-Jon Puskar-Austen Brassard line had come to play, getting several of the Grizzlies’ best chances.

Marc-André Lévesque got shoved into Boyle with 13:19 to go, and took exception to it, starting a scrum that sent him to the box together with Greger Hanson.

Brassard and Eick had a terrific shift on the four-on-four, Brassard out-muscling the Allen defense, and Eick just narrowly missing a chance on the net. Boyle made a nice save on the other end, and both teams returned to full strength with no change in score. Lévesque got a one-on-one chance right out of the box, but Riley Gill made the save.

Spencer Asuchak took a roughing minor with 11:04 to play, but though the Grizzlies retained possession for almost the entire two minutes, and got a few shots, nothing substantial came of it.

Brassard and Eick made yet another a lovely play with 4:56 left in the first, but Gill again shut the door, shots 8-6 in Utah’s favor, while the refs largely left their whistles in their pockets.

Boyle, Gabriel Verpaelst and an Allen player all collided with 4:17 to go, and there was some concern for Grizz fans as Boyle remained down for a long moment, requiring assistance to stand up. However, after taking a spin, he remained in net, and fortunately appeared none the worse for wear.

Puskar got a shot right off the draw, and Brassard beat Allen to the rebound, making it 1-0 Utah at 17:17.

With just 8 seconds to go, Erik Bradford had an absolutely terrific chance, but Gill jumped on it. The Grizzlies definitely looked sharp throughout the first frame, picking up 15 shots to Allen’s eight and once again taking a lead into intermission, clearly outworking the reigning Kelly Cup champions.

Utah began the second period well, nearly capitalizing on an Allen miscue in the early going. The Americans struggled a little, icing the puck several times in a row, and looking a little tentative for the division leader playing the team that squeaked in to the playoffs in the eleventh hour.

The Puskar line remained the most obviously dangerous throughout, but the Grizzlies in general continued to control the game. Bradford got a nice chance, as did Tim Daly on the same shift with about thirteen minutes to go in the second.

Just moments later, Puskar sprang a flying Eick, and Eick once again deked out the goalie, making it 2-0 on a gorgeous play at 7:28. Daly was boarded about a minute later, and Utah went to the power play.

Allen got one of the better chances on the Grizzlies’ man advantage, and the Americans returned to full strength with no change in score.

With just over eight minutes to go, the Americans thought they’d scored, but the puck had glanced off the post crossbar, the refs waived it off, and play continued.

Puskar forced Gill to make a big save on one end, and Boyle answered on the other, robbing Alex Krushelnyski at 5:43.

The Martin-Cuddemi-Bradford line had a number of really good chances as the period drew to a close, but it was Puskar who scored on a rebound at 17:54 from Eick and Brassard.

Less than a minute later, Josh Brittain boarded Phil Pietroniro, and Pelech made it 4-0 on a pretty passing play with 31 seconds left in the period.

After 40, Utah held a commanding 4-0 lead, and was outshooting Allen 25-20.

Allen played a much better third period, and at 5:49 Martin took a hooking call against Krushelnyski. The Americans responded by pulling Gill to play six-on-four with an empty net.

Though the Grizzlies spent nearly the whole kill in their own zone, they did a terrific job of frustrating Allen. Pietroniro blocked a big chance, Higby took another, and Boyle turned aside or smothered all the others, including an absolutely spectacular stick save in the dying seconds of the kill.

Unfortunately, after killing off the penalty, Brittain scored with 11:11 to go. However, that would be the only goal Boyle allowed, and the Grizzlies were not at all deterred, despite the Americans finally waking up.

Brittain took an interference call against Cuddemi with 5:19 remaining, and Utah once more went to the power play. The Grizzlies didn’t so much try to get another goal as to keep the puck as far away from the Americans as possible. Allen had a short-handed chance, but otherwise, time continued to tick away.

Verpaelst took a holding call with 3:22 left, and Allen once again pulled Gill for the extra attacker. Once again, though, the Grizzlies’ penalty kill came up huge, and Boyle was absolutely rock solid. Allen kept Gill pulled after the penalty to Utah expired, but they remained unable to solve Boyle, and David Makowski got an elbowing call against Brassard to end the game.

Boyle was named first star of the game with 36 out of 37 saves, while Eick got second star with the game winning goal and an assist, and Puskar was named third star with a goal and two assists of his own.

The Puskar line, as mentioned previously, was spectacular throughout, picking up ten of the team’s 30 shots, while Cuddemi had five all on his own. It was, in general, a really strong effort from Utah top to bottom. The power play, which struggled mightily at times throughout the regular season, made a contribution, while the penalty kill continued its run of excellence.

Utah comes back home with the series split 1-1, having kept up with – or even out played – Allen for large parts of two games in enemy territory. The Grizzlies will definitely look to continue that momentum through the home stand.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming

Utah Grizzlies: Game One

The fight to make the circus is over, and now the battle begins in earnest. Sixteen teams, four rounds, one prize. Garrett Haar returned to the lineup for the Grizzlies, while Cam Reid and Colin Martin remained sidelined, and Kevin Boyle made his seventh straight start.

Which did not exactly begin well, as Allen scored two minutes into the first period.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Austen Brassard drew the first penalty of the game, as Mike Gunn took an interference call at 5:36, and just moments later, Riley Gill put the puck over the glass, sending Utah to the 5-on-3.

The Grizzlies weren’t able to capitalize on the power play, but Erik Higby made it 1-0 just after it expired, and Marc-André Lévesque struck again for good measure at 9:09 to make it 2-1. Ralph Cuddemi and Mathieu Aubin got the assists on Higby’s goal, while Lévesque’s was unassisted.

Gill took a roughing penalty against Michael Pelech, and Utah went back to the power play. Allen killed off the penalty, and Pelech took a tripping call of his own at 12:00.

Utah kept the Americans scoreless, and the Grizzlies went the other way. A shot from Jon Puskar hit Gill up high, and he left the game replaced by Jamie Murray. Pelech took another penalty with 3:57 to go.

Utah killed that penalty off as well, and Larraza and Brassard caused havoc around the Allen net.

After 20, Utah led 2-1, and outshot the Americans 11-6.

The second period began in a much more sloppy fashion, and with 15:19, Puskar and Brian Moore got into a shoving match after the whistle. No penalties were called, and Allen began to put some pressure on the Grizzlies. Fortunately, Boyle stood tall.

At 7:17, Puskar threw a shot on net, and a huge rebound came right to the stick of C.J. Eick, who made it 3-1. Unfortunately, the Americans came the other way, and made it 3-2. Allen continued to pressure, and Martin Nemcik took a holding call at 11:20.

Utah’s penalty kill remained perfect, on the penalty kill, thanks in large part to Boyle. Phil Pietroniro took a hooking call and a stick full in the face with 1:15 to go, and Travis Howe served the penalty, while Pietroniro went to the room for repairs.

At the end of forty, the Grizzlies still held the 3-2 lead, but the Americans had taken over most of the momentum and a 16-15 edge in shots.

Utah killed off the remainder of the penalty to start the third, but Allen carried most of the momentum, and at 7:28, Wade MacLeod tied the game. Howe had a terrific chance with just under eleven to go, but the Grizzlies were unable to tie it up.

Gabriel Verpaelst got involved in a scuffle with 4:29 to go, and Joel Chouinard made it 4-3.

About a minute later, Tim Daly and Alex Krushelnyski got tangled behind the Utah net, and Boyle came to Daly’s defense. Marc-André Lévesque fought Bryan Moore in the resulting chaos, and once the refs sorted everything out, Boyle got two for roughing, Krushelnyski got two for slashing, and two for cross-checking, while Lévesque and Moore got five for fighting.

With a minute to go in the game, Utah pulled Boyle, but despite a valiant effort from the Grizzlies on the 6-on-4, including one especially heartbreakingly close chance from Ralph Cuddemi, they weren’t able to tie it up. Allen seemingly scored into the empty net, but it was called off.

So Utah dropped Game 1 4-3 after relinquishing a lead, which is certainly very frustrating, but one thing we did find out. The Grizzlies have what it takes to skate with the Americans.

Higby was named third star of the night, Cuddemi had two assists on the night, and Utah looks to tie up the series on Friday.

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard.

Utah Grizzlies: Don’t Stop Believing

What a ride it’s been.

What a roller coaster of standings points and emotions, of injuries and triumphs this season has been. For every year, and every team, there’s always a narrative. Every regular season has a story. For the 2016-17 Utah Grizzlies, the narrative was confidence.

“We’re very confident.” Phil Pietroniro said in mid January. “We’ve got enough time to move up, and I think teams know we’re on the move. I really think we’re going to get there,” and he was just one voice among many with the same message.

Confidence in the face of adversity. Confidence in the face of one long grind of a season, punctuated with bright stretches of terrific winning streaks and dazzling performances, bracketed by bad bounces, tough losses, and an endless litany of injuries.

There was never any bravado, just a calm certainty that they had what it would take to fight their way into a playoff spot.

From the coach on out, even in the deepest, darkest depths of an awful November and a patchy December, this team believed. Even when it got bad.

And boy did it ever get bad. The Grizzlies went 9-16-1-1 before Christmas, including a nine-game losing streak between November 18th and December 4th that saw them nosedive from atop the Mountain Division to well out of the playoffs.

There were games where they played well, and couldn’t buy a bounce or a goal, games where the hockey gods seemed to mock them as opposing goalies made impossible save after impossible save. Of course, there was the occasional game where the entire team was terrible, but every team has those, and despite everything, those games remained the exception rather than the rule.

On January 6th, the Grizzlies were 14 points out of a playoff spot with key pieces like Erik Higby and Colin Martin out of the lineup with injuries. But they still hadn’t given up.

That’s when the season turned around, though things certainly didn’t get any easier.

On January 21st Utah was at the front end of a seven-game winning streak, only to have their blue line decimated by injury. By mid February, they were only three points out, but had only three healthy defensemen in the lineup. Yet they never packed it in, despite some overwhelming adversity. Forwards played defense, defenders played forward, and Tim Branham rebuilt nearly all of his blue line, and parts of his forward group on the fly.

In March they’d clawed back to within five of Alaska, only to be seemingly derailed by a brutal home stand against Colorado. But they pulled themselves together, and proceeded to win six of the next seven games.

Whether it was in individual games – like the one in Rapid City where Ralph Cuddemi scored two goals in less than a minute to force overtime in January, the brutal short-handed victory in Alaska in February, or their crazy four goal comeback also against Alaska in March – or in the season as a whole, the Grizzlies showed their resilience and their fortitude.

And now here they stand, having gone 22-12-3-1 since January. It may have taken them until the eleventh hour to secure their playoff berth, but they’re here. For the tenth straight season, the Grizzlies are in the hunt for the Kelly Cup.

Against all odds, they made it.

Technically, there may have been nothing at stake in Saturday’s game, with Utah’s playoff spot clinched, and the Mavericks eliminated from contention days earlier, but neither team packed it in.

Garrett Haar sat this one out, as did Colin Martin, after going rib first into the goal post on Friday. Erik Higby remained sidelined while Travis Howe drew back in, and Cam Reid made his return to the lineup for the first time since February 24th.

Utah got two of the first three shots, and Kevin Boyle was sharp in his sixth straight start. There were very few whistles, and the puck bounced quite a bit. One of those bounces found its way from the stick of Dane Fox and into the back of the net at 6:10. Just moments later, Boyle made an absolutely phenomenal save along the goal line to keep the score 1-0 as the Grizzlies seemed to ease off the gas briefly through the middle of the frame.

Boyle continued to be the Grizzlies’ best player early, but gradually Utah got their skates under them. Jon Puskar just narrowly missed tying the game up with just about six minutes to go, off a terrific shift with Travis Howe and C.J. Eick.

With about four minutes to go, things got exciting. Howe and Jacob Doty dropped the gloves right off the faceoff. After a lengthy tilt, Howe eventually went down, and both combatants got two for removing their helmets in addition to their five for fighting.

Ralph Cuddemi got a beautiful wrap around attempt followed up by a net crashing effort by Eick and Puskar, but Missouri’s Josh Robinson continued to hold the fort.

After a pretty disjointed first period, Utah led in shots 16-12, but Missouri held the 1-0 lead.

The Grizzlies picked up right where they left off to start the second, Puskar making it 1-1 from Cuddemi and Gabriel Verpaelst at 1:36. On the other end, Boyle continued to answer the call. Cuddemi and Eick got a nice two-on-one, as that line, backed by Tim Daly and Phil Pietroniro, had a strong shift in the offensive zone.

With about fifteen minutes left, Verpaelst was hit up high, went down in distress, and in the aftermath of the hit, the Mavs went up 2-1.

With 14:37 to go, Pietroniro made a nice pass to Puskar, who passed to Eick, who threw the puck on net. The goal horn went off, and the Grizzlies celebrated, but it was ruled no goal. Needless to say, the 8,874 fans in attendance were less than pleased.

On the very next shift, Erik Bradford scored for real at 5:40, tipping in Rob Mann’s point shot, making it 2-2, and giving Mann his first pro point. Brassard got the secondary assist, giving him four points in the last five games, and the crowd went absolutely wild.

Just about a minute later, Cuddemi sprang Eick, and C.J. beat out the Missouri defensemen, driving across the crease to go five hole for his ninth of the year. Cuddemi got his second assist of the night, while Pietroniro, who started the play, got the other helper.

Immediately after that, Howe and Doty dropped the gloves again, and had yet another marathon bout. Both got another two and five for fighting and removing their helmets. Boyle was called upon to make another phenomenal save two-on-one on the shift after that, much to the frustration of the Mavericks.

Utah began to really get going after the half-way mark, turning the offensive zone into a shooting gallery as they kept the puck in the zone through multiple successive shifts.

The Grizzlies drew the first power play of the night with at 14:35, but scarcely had the power play commenced than Daly was assessed a holding the stick penalty, evening play up at four a side.

Michael Pelech took a roughing call and then a ten-minute misconduct immediately afterwards, putting the Grizzlies down 4-on-3 for 1:23, then a brief 5-on-3. However, Utah’s penalty kill handled the situation, and escaped unscathed, thanks in part to Missouri clinging to the periphery, and to the efforts of Boyle and the defenders.

At the end of an eventful second period, Utah led 3-2, and held the narrow 24-23 advantage in shots as well.

The third period did not get off to an auspicious start, as Conner Bleackley scored a grand total of 58 seconds into the frame to tie it up.

Fortunately, the Grizzlies responded.

At about the nine minute mark, Pietroniro led a beautiful up-ice rush, fired a shot on net, and Eick batted the rebound in past Robinson for his tenth of the year. Puskar got the secondary assist, giving all three players multiple point games.

Utah continued to manage the puck well through the frame, and were rewarded with 6:16 left to go when Larraza’s point shot went to Bradford, and Daly put away the rebound. The goal was Daly’s 10th of the season, and Bradford’s assist gave him a multi-point game as well.

When the final buzzer of the regular season sounded, Utah led 5-3, and outshot Missouri 37-26.

On the second of two fan appreciation nights, the game was nothing if not a crowd-pleaser. It might not have been the best from a pure hockey stand point, but it had something of everything. There were good goals, bad goals, called off goals, fights, huge saves, some nifty, nifty plays, an absolutely electric crowd, and multi-point games from five different players. Puskar and Bradford both had a goal and an assist, Pietroniro and Cuddemi picked up two assists each, while C.J. Eick closed the regular season as he opened it, with two goals. And, of course, Boyle continued to be a difference maker in net, turning aside 23 out of 26 shots.

Travis Howe was named first star of the game, earning a deafening ovation from the crowd, while Eick and Puskar were the well deserving second and third stars.

It was a fitting end to a remarkable season.

“It’s one of those games that’s kind of tough,” C.J. Eick said after the game. “because you want to go into playoffs playing the right way with the right mentality. But at the same time you know that the spots already locked up, in the back of your mind you’re thinking you don’t want to get hurt, you don’t want to take any injuries on the night. It definitely made for a loose, fast paced game”

Looking back on the season, and the team’s overall attitude, Eick continued, “We knew what kind of team we had. A couple of those runs where we had some losses, we were playing well, we just weren’t getting the bounces, we were finding ways to lose games. But we knew that if we stuck with the process, we’d get back with the winning side, and that’s what happened.”

Tim Branham’s thoughts on the team’s performance were in a similar vein.

“I thought it was really energetic from both sides. I thought it was a good game. Definitely liked our energy, I thought we were playing well even though we got behind early. They worked hard, got a lucky bounce. I thought we were playing some good hockey. We really took over the last half of that 1st period and got a lot of shots on net and then out third period was good, using our speed and pushing them back on their heels, just get more pressure on the goaltender and knew we would break the dam.”

“I definitely believed in this group along,” Branham said when asked to reflect on the season as a whole. “I knew some changes had to be made and some tough decisions had to be made up front, trading some guy away that we did not want to, [that’s] just the nature of the business with the amount of injuries that we had. You gotta give the boys props, you gotta give them credit, they battled through and they wanted to get in. Had to do it by winning, and I thought they did a tremendous job at sticking together, scoring the goals when they had to. Winning that 5 and 0 on that road trip was massive. You really gotta give the guys credit, they did an amazing job and they deserved to celebrate a little bit here with the fans, and then the real work begins, that’s for sure.

“The position that we were at in January, after a real tough stretch, winless in nine, to be able to pull though, battle through, that month of February was really important. We got to play the teams in our division and close the gap a little bit there in Alaska, and then obviously that last road trip going 5 and 0 was big. It’s a character group. They know what it takes to win and its just a matter of having people in that lineup on a consistent basis getting some chemistry, and bringing in some new D-men. We had to revamp the D-core after it was decimated so it was good. The boys never said die, found a way to get the job done, its huge. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us right now and we gotta make sure we’re ready.”

The battle for the playoff spot is over, but the war is only just begun. The Grizzlies will face the reigning Kelly Cup champion Allen Americans against whom they were 0-2-1-1 this season.

“We know what we’re up against. They won a lot of championships here in a row, they got some guys on their team who know how to win, but so do we. We gotta make them play defense. They went out and got a lot of high end talent there at the deadline. We gotta make sure that we’re in their face, not giving them time to make plays, and make them play defense. We’ve been saying puck possession all year, when we have the puck their team cants score so, we gotta make sure that we stick to that philosophy and see if we can’t frustrate them a little bit and take it one game at a time.”

It’s a tall task, to be sure, but Utah is very familiar with those by now, and if we’ve learned anything from the regular season, it’s this.

Don’t ever, ever count the Grizzlies out when there’s still time for a comeback.

 

Photo courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies