In the last game of the decade, if you’ll pardon the use of a very tired phrase, the Grizzlies made only one roster change, activating Brad Barone to back up Martin Ouellette.
The Tulsa Oilers got the first shot of the game just over two minutes in, but the Grizzlies got the first serious attempt.
Overall, though, the speed and tenacity that characterized the Grizzlies’ first match against Tulsa, and which waned a bit in Saturday’s game, was once again lacking, and the Oilers struck first at 3:53 after an extended sequence in the defensive zone.
Despite not looking terribly sharp overall, there were still early flashes. One such instance involved Peter Tischke losing his footing, still got a pass away, and then muscling his way into the offensive zone where Utah drew a power play at 8:37.
Unfortunately, the power play struggled, as the Grizzlies continued to have trouble handling the puck cleanly and finishing passes, but between Ouellette and a defenseman, they muddled through without giving up a short-handed goal.
Yuri Terao took a hooking call at 9:15, and perhaps not surprisingly, that’s when the Grizzlies showed signs of waking up.
Griffen Molino and Tim McGauley got their traditional two-on-one short-handed chance, and Travis Barron chased the Oilers around their own zone. Likewise, Joe Wegwerth, aided and abetted by Ty Lewis, saw the Grizzlies have their best shifts of the game so far.
Utah sunk back down into lethargy again after the penalty kill until about the 15 minute mark, when a strong shift from Terao, Wegwerth, and Jack Jenkins, created a spark of life. Brandon Saigeon followed that up with a nice move that didn’t result in a shot on goal, but also didn’t miss the empty top of the net by much at all.
The Grizzlies still resembled a team skating through molasses in the final couple minutes of the first, but did still manage to spend more time in the offensive zone.
After 20, despite the slow start, they only trailed 1-0, despite being out-shot 14-8.
The Grizzlies had far more life in the second period, skating better, if nothing else, but misfortune struck rapidly as, with 18:18 to go, Teigan Zahn went awkwardly into the boards, and had to be helped off the ice.
On the next shift, Richart got checked, pushed back, and another full line scrum broke out. Peter Tischke and Joe Wegwerth were the only real combatants for Utah, and both found themselves in the box, together with Jake Clifford and Miles Liberati for Tulsa. Liberati got an extra two for cross-checking, while Clifford and Wegwerth both got an additional ten for continuing the altercation.
The Grizzlies got going in earnest after that, however, and the shots began to even up to 16-13 for Tulsa. Terao continued to work absolute magic with a spin-o-rama chance that led to a power play when he got hauled down.
He continued to electrify the crowd by scoring the equalizer in the dying seconds of the advantage, and just a few moments later, the Grizzlies had seized the shot lead 19-16, absolutely pouring it on as the game hit the half-way point.
Utah was the first team to hit 20 shots, and then somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net as certain disaster seemed imminent with Tulsa pin-balling the puck through a veritable sea of legs and sticks.
Josh Anderson took a cross-checking penalty later on the same shift, but Terao and Maxwell had the most serious chances of the special teams time.
By the time Wegwerth and Clifford were freed with just under three to go, shots were 21-19 for the Grizzlies.
A questionable call on Jenkins saw Utah down a man in the final minute of the period, and a clock issue dragged it on even longer. Thankfully, a huge effort from Tischke and Ouellette kept the game tied as they headed into the locker room. After 40, shots were 23-22 for Utah, and 15-8 in their favor in the second.
The Grizzlies killed off the remaining 22 seconds of Jenkins’ penalty, but Tischke headed to the box at 1:02 to put them right back on the kill.
Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they got on an up-ice rush, and Maxwell was tripped up, leading to a brief 4-on-4 and then to a Utah power play.
Flying out of the penalty box, Tischke set up a perfect pass, but both Molino and Williams were unable to beat Devin Williams. Not that it mattered much. At 3:42, McGauley chipped the puck over Williams and in for his 12th of the season unassisted.
And the Grizzlies weren’t done. About 20 seconds later, Josh Anderson rocketed one past the Tulsa goalie for his first of the season from Maxwell and Barron.
Not to be outdone, Tischke didn’t give anyone a chance to think, scoring just ten seconds later to make it 4-1 from Saigeon and Yao. Three goals in less than a minute, and by the nine minute mark, shots were 30-26 in their favor.
Tulsa rallied, but Utah didn’t back done, Barron and Saigeon especially harrying the Oilers into their own zone, and Ouellette calmly turning aside pucks on the other end of the ice.
With 11:22 to go, Piccinich boarded Richart, a crowd gathered, and Utah headed to the advantage. Molino showed off his blistering speed, but wasn’t able to elevate a back-hander over the sprawling Williams.
Just 16 seconds from killing off the penalty, the Oilers took a roughing call, sending Utah to a brief 5-on-3, and a longer 5-on-4. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do a whole lot with it.
In the end, it didn’t much matter, as the Grizzlies held the 4-1 lead until the end, amassing 36 shots to Tulsa’s 29, and completing the series sweep in decisive fashion.
It was especially impressive, as prior to the series, the Oilers averaged 38 shots a night, and the Grizzlies held them to less than 30 every game.
Moreover, after getting so much scoring from the same couple of guys, the Grizzlies mixed it up in a big way, getting contributions from two defensemen, and two forwards, of whom only McGauley was on the usual suspect list. Ouellette, Anderson, and Terao were named the three stars of the game, respectively.
“That team worked hard.” Tim Branham said following the game, “That’s a hard working team over there, and it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row in these series. But I thought we stuck with the process. It was a really slow first, first couple shifts were pretty good, we still had four or five scoring chances — if we’d have hit the net we would have scored in the first period — but not good enough by our standards, that’s for sure. Second period we took it to them. What can we say, power play came up big, penalty kill was good, Martin Oullette, he’s a rock back there. He allowed us to battle through some things and eventually put some pucks in the net. All around, really proud of this group, really proud of the way they battled, and go into the new year on a high.”
Getting contributions from defense first guys like Tischke and Anderson was also a big plus. “I thought they played a really solid game. To be able to step up and provide scoring like they did, that’s huge. We don’t look for it from them, but I think that’s them getting rewarded for playing well, and playing hard. We ask a lot of them, sometimes it’s not a glamorous job going out there and grinding it out, sticking up for your teammates like Tischke does, over all, really proud of the way Josh played, really proud of the way he played, and Tischke has been really solidi for a while now, so kudos to them.”
But Branham saved some of his highest praise for Terao. “He’s got a really high skill level, that’s for sure. A great person, works really hard out there on the ice. It was good for him to get that goal, he needed that one for his confidence, some things weren’t going his way, but what a great human being. I wish some fans would be able to get to know him better, he’s just an amazing person. Really proud of him. If we can get him going, get that depth scoring that we’ve been, obviously that top line has done really well, but get some depth scoring, which we did tonight, then we’re a dangerous team.”
Despite speaking only some English, Terao agreed to do a post game interview. When asked about his time with the Grizzlies, especially during this winning streak, he said, “I’m so happy because [we have a] good coach, and good players, and good fans. I’m so happy now.”
About the slow first period he said, “I think everybody was a little bit tired here,” and of his own play he added, “I needed a mind change, keep things simple, simple, simple, and then shoot, shoot, shoot, you know what I mean? Hockey is simple. Go to the net!”
Go to the net the Grizzlies certainly did, ultimately out-shooting Tulsa 36-29 to close out the year.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard