After a terrific road trip, the Grizzlies opened their final home stand of the regular season against the Missouri Mavericks. Kevin Boyle made his fourth straight start, while Ralph Cuddemi returned to the lineup after serving his four game suspension. Erik Higby and Cam Reid remained sidelined.
Missouri started well to begin, but Utah got the first four shots of the game as the Grizzlies peppered Josh Robinson early and often.
After that, Utah did an excellent job of keeping the puck in the Mavs’ end drawing their ire on a number of occasions, but even so, Boyle was called upon to make a number of saves as well.
Dan Correale high-sticked Colin Martin with 8:39 to go in the period, drawing blood, and sending Martin to the room for repairs. Though Utah picked up a few good chances on the lengthy man advantage, the score remained unchanged. Martin also returned part way through the power play, and played a shift or two, looking none the worse for wear.
The Grizzlies accumulated 20 shots through the first 20 minutes, but when the period drew to a close the game was still scoreless.
C.J. Eick took a holding call 3:17 into the second, but the penalty kill allowed zero shots, while Zac Larraza and Erik Bradford had a pair of chances of their own.
With 8:44 left in the second, and the Grizzlies already up in shots 30-9, Gabriel Verpaelst took an interference call, but Utah killed it off, and he got a breakaway chance out of the box, which unfortunately went wide.
Jon Puskar was taken down with just over four minutes left with no call, much to the disgust of the 5,268 fans in attendance. The Mavs did eventually take a delay of game penalty at 16:17. However, the Grizzlies were unable to capitalize on the power play, and Boyle had to make a flurry of saves as it expired to keep the game tied at zero.
In the dying seconds of the second, Puskar made a beautiful intersection to prevent a breakaway, and after 40, the score remained unchanged, shots 31-14 in the Grizzlies’ favour.
Missouri spent much of the first few minutes in the offensive zone, but at 4:00, the Mavs took a roughing call, and Utah went to the power play.
Garret Haar unleashed a cannon of a shot that beat Robinson to finally break the deadlock at 4:24. Bradford and Puskar got the assists, and the crowd erupted.
Alas, the Mavs answered about two minutes later, and just like that the game was back to square one.
With 5:16 to go, Austen Brassard was put into the Missouri bench, and both teams came flying in. In the end Brassard was extracted, seeming none the worse for his misadventure, and Martin Nemcik and Jacob Doty were both sent to the box for roughing. Nothing came of the ensuing 4-on-4, and with one minute left, Puskar was taken down yet again. However, this time, Radoslav Illo was sent to the box for crosschecking.
The Grizzlies were not able to capitalize on the power play, and a scrum ensued following the buzzer, which saw Larraza and Benjamin Dieude-Fauvel kicked out of the game with two minute minors and a game misconduct each.
Utah got a number of chances on the 4-on-3, including quite a few from Cuddemi, but the penalty expired with no change in score.
In the end, it didn’t matter, as Haar wired the puck past Robinson 2:07 into OT to give the Grizzlies the 2-1 win.
Haar was named first star of the night, while Boyle’s 19/20 saves earned him second star, and Michael Pelech’s assist saw him named one of the stars of the game for the second time in three games.
“Obviously it’s huge, right? It’s do or die right now, and we control our own destiny.” Haar said of the victory. “To get that win obviously, couldn’t ask for anything better. We just need to have a good practice tomorrow and move on to Friday.”
“We have so much skill that when we work hard along with our skill it’s kind of hard to stop us.” He continued, when asked about the team’s recent success. “That’s what we were doing tonight, we were hounding pucks and what not, but we just need to maybe tighten up our d-zone in transition a little bit and I think we’ll be alright.”
Coach Branham had nothing but praise for his defenseman, and for his team. “Garrett Haar has been tremendous since we got him. What a pick-up that was for us. He’s playing with confidence, he’s playing big minutes, those two goals were the biggest of the year so far, so props to him.
“We’ve got guys who have been here before. They know what’s at stake, they know how to play, they know what it takes to win, to have success. It’s their team right now. They want it. They want to win, they have all year. We faced so much adversity, through injuries and call ups and stuff like that, we’re finally getting a somewhat consistent lineup, and we’re getting rewarded for it.”
A Grizzlies’ win tonight (Friday), or an Aces’ loss will clinch Utah’s playoff spot. So, what do the Grizzlies have to do to keep the wins coming? “Play the same game, don’t change anything. We can’t change anything, we gotta keep the foot on the gas, and you wanna go on to playoffs winning. We just gotta make sure we take care of business on Friday, we have something to play for, that’s for sure. We don’t wanna change anything.”
Image courtesy of Tim Boussard