On the first night of the last home-stand, the Grizzlies faced the Kansas City Mavericks, for the first time this season. It was a bit of a preview of what will be a Mountain Division match up next year. At the beginning of the night, the Mavericks were chasing a playoff spot, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from their early play.
“I think for the most part, I thought we played pretty well.” Tim Branham said of the game, “For the most part, I thought we’ve controlled the last bunch of games, except the one Idaho game. But I thought the boys played well. We have a problem keeping the puck out of our net. I thought we’ve controlled the play for the majority of this last month, we’ve just got to keep that up. It’s tough for these guys, I know they’re professionals and whatnot, but they’re pretty disappointed that they’re not in the playoff hunt, so for them to go out there and play the way they did, against Colorado, the fights that they had, and to come out here and find a win in front of this unbelievable crowd, you’ve gotta give them props.”
Through the first two periods, Utah out-worked, out-shot, out-hustled, and generally out-played the Mavericks, who also struggled to complete passes all game.
Brendan Harms got the game’s first shot at 1:24, and the Grizzlies proceeded to get the next five shots as well, as they more or less had their way in the offensive zone.
Joel Rumpel was left alone in the Utah end, making his first save 3:19 into the period. That’s the only one he saw until 8:14. There were no penalties, and very few whistles through the first half.
Ryan Walters rang the cross bar with eight minutes to go, and on the next shift, a really fast whistle robbed Sam Babintsev of what would probably have been a grade A chance.
In the end, it didn’t matter, as Kyle Thomas wired one past Parsons at 13:08 from Michael Pelech and Travis Howe.
Unfortunately, despite all that zone time, and all the dominant game the Grizzlies played, the Mavericks tied it up at 18:44 with the primary assist going to C.J. Eick after a turn over, and a good bit of Kansas City passing.
Utah went right back to work, but the score remained tied at one after 20, shots 16-6 for the Grizzlies.
Utah drew a power play 19 seconds into the second, but a shot from Thomas was the best chance they got on the advantage.
Pelech took an elbowing call at 2:42, but they killed it off, allowing only one shot.
However, despite continuing to look like the better team, Kansas City scored at 6:18 to take the lead as Utah couldn’t clear the zone. Once more, the Grizzlies went back to work.
Walters was hauled down about half-way through the period with no call, and Thomas racked up another couple of chances.
At 15:40, those chances paid off, and Thomas scored another on an absolutely sick backhand. Barely fifteen seconds later, on the very next shift, Matt Robertson beat Rumpel clean for their third goal.
With 56 seconds left in the second, Mitch Jones wired the puck at the net and missed, but James Melindy picked the puck up, and put it into the far corner past Tyler Parsons to tie it up again. So the teams went into the room tied once more, shots 23-16 for Utah.
The third got of to a wild start. Just 33 seconds in, Jake Marchment flew in, and scored his 17th of the year from Mitch Maxwell and Gage Ausmus. On the next shift, one of the Kansas City players put the puck into their own bench, hitting captain Tyler Elbrecht in the collarbone area. Fortunately, he ended up being ok. At 1:28 Brendan Harms blasted one in off the face-off. There was a little bit of a scare on that one too, as the puck went in off the throat or chest of Troy Donnay.
The goals kept coming, and Kansas City scored about a minute later, 5-4 Utah, and not even five minutes in. Utah got lucky a couple of times, as the Mavericks continued to have trouble completing passes.
The game calmed down a little after that, Maxwell taking a tripping penalty at 5:09, but thanks to big clears from Ausmus and James Melindy, the Grizzlies killed that one off without any change in score.
The Ryans got in two-on-one, but Parsons continued to make saves, making another one on the same two a few moments later, and then anther couple on Harms and Marchment.
At the half way mark, Rumpel went on a bit of an adventure, but made it back to the net in time to make a big save, which led to a two-on-one going the other way from Thomas and Pelech. Thomas went for the hat trick, but once again Parsons stopped it calmly.
Utah got a couple more chances on Parsons, but once again, it was Kansas City who scored, tying it up at 14:01. The goal came after an extended period of Mavericks pressure, who had woken up and finally seemed to remember that they were playing for their playoff lives. Eick got his second assist of the night on the marker.
Harms had a great shift, starting with a defensive play, and then ending with another scoring chance in the final five, and in true Grizzlies fashion, the game went to overtime for the 22nd time this season.
Unlike so many others, however, the Captain sealed the deal for Utah, and the 8,035 fans in attendance.
“I wouldn’t say a little scoring slump,” said Walters of his 12 game goal drought, “I’d say a pretty big one, probably the most in my career, actually, but it was a great win. It felt really nice to get that monkey off the back and score a goal for the team. We just want to play as hard as we can for the rest of the year. We’ve still got a job to do, and hopefully I can bring the same intensity tomorrow.”
When asked about the last game of the year, he said, “Like I said, we’ve still got a job to do, we’re still getting paid. Our fans have supported us all year, so we don’t want to come out and just throw an egg on the ice. We want to play hard for them, and give them a good farewell for the season.”
Branham’s thoughts were the same. “I just want them to be professionals. Come out, play hard, we owe it to these fans. We didn’t have the greatest record here at home, and that’s been pretty disappointing, because they’ve come out and supported us. We just want to go out and make sure we give it all we got until they tell us we can’t anymore. That’s the only thing I’m looking for. If every one of my guys gives it their all, we’re going to win. So I just want to focus on that.”
Utah took all three stars of the game, Thomas with two goals and two assists, and Marchment and Melindy with a goal and an assist each. Their win eliminated the Mavericks from post-season contention, and they hope to end the regular season in style tonight.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.