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.