Utah Grizzlies: Max-imum Suspense

After Friday’s decisive victory, the roster remained the same, although the lines did see some minor juggling, putting Yuri Terao back on a line with Travis Barron and Mitch Maxwell.

Sasha Larocque gave Utah the first shot of the game less than twenty seconds in, but Tulsa was far better prepared in the early going, not allowing the Grizzlies to run away with the shots (2-2 early), and forcing Ouellette to make a big save.

Utah did eventually find themselves out-shooting the Oilers 5-2, but Adam Pleskach repeated his Friday performance, striking first for Tulsa at 5:09.

Nearly three minutes later, however, the Oilers let Maxwell camp out right on the left side of the paint, and Barron set him up for the perfect shot to tie the game. Barron and Ian McNulty got into a tussle on the ensuing face-off, but the game continued.

The first line showed no signs of stopping, Tim McGauley shooting on Olle Eriksson Ek, and the rebound landing square on the stick of Griffen Molino. Molino showed no mercy, sniping his 13th of the year from McGauley and Ty Lewis.

McGauley took a holding call, and Cam Knight beat Ouellette clean to make it 2-2 with 7:26 to go.

A few minutes later, Josh Anderson made a particularly impressive play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, standing on one skate, while being hauled over. Utah got a power play later in the shift, but though they came close, Tulsa returned to full strength with no change in score.

With three to go, Ty Lewis exchanged jabs with an Oilers player, and Peter Tischke charged in to champion his cause.

Richart made a diving play to put the puck out of the zone on the ensuing penalty kill, and an incredible Molino short-handed one-on-none was broken up when a Tulsa player threw his stick to try to prevent it. Utah got a brief stint of four-on-four time, and then threw everything but the kitchen sink at Eriksson Ek.

When the buzzer sounded, Utah had 12 seconds of PP time to go, and shots were 12-10 in their favor, but the score remained 2-2.

The first period was definitely far less smooth than Friday’s with plenty more whistles and goals.

Though the Grizzlies didn’t do anything with the first 12 seconds, they returned to the power play less than a minute later on a slashing cal to Cam Knight.

Unfortunately, that too suffered the fate of many early power plays, and nothing came of it, the Oilers forcing Utah to chase down the puck repeatedly. Richart got the only shot right into the crest of Eriksson Ek’s jersey.

They might not have gotten anything going on the advantage, but the Grizzlies threw in some big hits along with the offense and defense, getting particularly good shifts from Wegwerth, Richart, and the usual three suspects. Maxwell also came in for some notice, throwing the puck into absolute mayhem.

The Oilers did do a good job getting in the Grizzlies’ way in the offensive zone, but not good enough to keep Utah from picking up the shots.

Zahn took a “cross-checking” call at about the half-way point, which was a bit more of a glorified shove when a whole pile of players ended up on Ouellette.

Following the power play, Utah played very well in their own end, but also spent far too much time in their own end.

Not that it seemed to particularly matter when Molino had an incredible spin around the offensive zone, got knocked down, and picked up an assist when McGauley came barreling in to put the puck over Eriksson Ek.

It was a lead that was not destined to stand, though, as Miles Liberati scored less than a minute later.

A questionable tripping call on Maxwell ended the period, but as the better version of the Grizzlies’ penalty kill came to play.

Once again, Lewis was the cause of a scrum, as he got bumped, and this time Anderson came in to defend him. Thomas and Anderson got offsetting minors. Utah headed into the room still tied 3-3, shots 23-21 for the Oilers.

Utah killed off their penalty, and weathered a Tulsa charge for the first four minutes. Questionable calls continued as Barron slash Thomas, but then Thomas got a call. Wegwerth got shoved, at least as egregiously as Zahn had shoved a Tulsa player earlier, but nothing was called.

Tulsa pressed hard through the middle stages of the third, and though Utah was not without their chances, and turns of blazing speed up the ice (most notably from Tischke), the Oilers either kept Utah chasing in their own zone, or flew in on odd-man rushes.

The defensive zone time cost the Grizzlies, as the defenders got all bunched up on Ouellette’s right, leaving Pleskach all alone to put the puck past Ouellette just over half-way through the third.

They continued to be plagued by turnovers and less-than-crisp play, but they also had moments like one with nearly six left where Jack Jenkins nearly got a beauty following some very good skating.

Things were looking pretty bleak with just over two to go, when Lewis drew a tripping call behind the Oilers’ net, and Ouellette sprinted for the bench.

An absolute muddle of players saw Richart shoot the puck, the rebound spring out to a crowd of sticks, and Lewis put the puck past Eriksson Ek to tie the game.

Regulation wasn’t enough to solve the tie, so guaranteed one point, the Grizzlies went out to try to take the other.

Molino and McGauley nearly had the picture perfect GWG as the Grizzlies’ speed owned the first few minutes of extra time.

There was a scary moment when Jake Clifford put Molino nearly head-first into the boards, and Larocque flew to meet him. Fortunately, Molino appeared alright, and Clifford got two for boarding, as well as a matching roughing call with Larocque.

Eriksson Ek committed grand larceny once again with 1:58 to go, falling backwards into the net, but still stopping Molino’s labeled shot. OT solved nothing, so they headed to the shoot-out.

Maxwell eventually got the game winner, with McGauley and Molino both scoring, as well as a highlight reel stunner from Terao.

It certainly wasn’t the Grizzlies’ prettiest game, but they found a way to make it work.

“I was just telling the guys, I don’t know if we didn’t have it today, they had a LOT of bounces, or they just did a great job of winning battles” Tim Branham said after the game. “That’s what I was harping on, guys, we’ve got to win battles. Every time it was a 50/50 puck, not every time, but a lot of times they were coming up with it, and we’re not used to that. We’re used to winning those battles. We battled, Marty battled for us, big goal at the end there to tie it up, you’re gonna have these games. It was a character win, no one panicked on the bench whatsoever, lots of goals there in the shoot out, it was fun to see.”

The Grizzlies have had a lot of pretty wins lately, but this was certainly not one of them. However, it was good to see them find a way to win in a different style.

“It’s a character group. Can’t say how proud we are of this group, me and Ryan, they’re a family in there, all they want to do is work hard and do well. It’s not always gonna go your night, but we had the crowd behind us tonight, that’s for sure, and we worked hard. It’s tough too with nine forwards, two nights in a row, it’s a lot of ice for those guys. Definitely proud that we’re winning, finding ways to win, cause that’s what it’s gonna take if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you’ve gotta be able to find wins in various ways, so it was a good job.”

“He’s doing really good. He had a really good road-trip last week too, and that kind of got him going. He’s got everything, he’s moving his feet, he’s got a lot of skill, we saw how tough he was on Friday, and the patience for a shoot-out winner. He’s really important to this group, doesn’t get more of a quality person than that, that’s for sure. We’ve got a lot of those guys in the room, but definitely proud of him. He’s battled, in and out of the lineup kind of thing, and he’s an important part of this team.”

“Like you said, not our best game,” Maxwell agreed, “But we’ve kind of been streaking lately, finding ways to win games, so you’ve just got to ride that while you’re hot. Obviously that line of Lu and Mo, and Gals have kind of been helping us out, and Lu scores that big one for us to give us some momentum, and there you go from there and get two points.”

Of his own performance, he added, “It’s always nice to score goals and help out when you can, to have the opportunity to be put in a situation like that where you have the game on your stick, I think we don’t have a guy on our team who wouldn’t want that, so I was just the lucky guy who got called on tonight to have that opportunity.”

So how do they keep the streak going, and go back to those pretty wins?

“We can’t take our foot off the gas, we’ve just got to keep going. Nothing changes in our room, and we just keep doing the same things.”

Monday’s game is the first opportunity to keep the streak alive, and against a Tulsa team that is not going to out of the decade quietly.

 

Photo courtesy of Jon Berry

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