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Grizzlies beat Idaho 3-0, advance to next round of ECHL playoffs

(Ben Dowsett)

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WEST VALLEY CITY — The Utah Grizzlies beat the Idaho Steelheads 3-0 Monday night at the Maverik Center in West Valley, capping their third consecutive win and a 4-2 series victory to move on to the second round of the ECHL playoffs.

The Grizzlies had been down 2-1 in the series after dropping Game 3 on home ice last week in overtime, but rebounded with back-to-back victories in Idaho before sealing things back home Monday.

Grizzlies goaltender Igor Bobkov, spectacular throughout the series, had perhaps his most impressive game to close it out, posting 40 saves in a convincing shutout.

“Guys wouldn’t let Idaho shoot from the slot much,” Bobkov said after the game. “Most of the shots were from outside the hash marks, so I feel great.”

The teams traded early chances as the game got underway, but it was the Grizzlies who struck first in the early stages of the first period. After some strong zone time led to a Steelheads hooking penalty, Ryan Hayes took a pass from Mathieu Aubin on the man advantage and curled along the top of the right circle, firing a quick wrist shot that deflected off of Michael Pelech’s leg in front of the net and past Idaho goalie Olivier Roy just 5:04 into the period. As is customary after the first goal in a playoff game, Utah fans littered the ice with frozen fish in an effort to “feed the Grizzlies.”

The Steelheads picked up the pressure after surrendering the lead, however. The Grizzlies were consistently hemmed in at their own end for the next several minutes of play, but Bobkov held down the fort with a number of strong saves. The period ended 1-0 Grizzlies, with Idaho holding a 16-11 advantage in shots on goal.

The second period began with some of the same back-and-forth action as the start of the first, with both teams putting a few chances on goal. But with just over seven minutes gone, the Maverik Center crowd was treated to one of the prettiest goals in the playoffs thus far.

Our best players were our best players. They've been like that all series.

–Grizzlies coach Tim Branham

Utah’s Alex Krushelnyski took control of the puck deep in his own end, outskating a Steelhead forward around the Grizzlies' net and feeding Aubin near center ice. Aubin found Michael Pelech near Idaho’s blue line as Krushelnyski, one of the fastest players in the ECHL, sped past both Steelhead defenders and took a pretty return pass from Pelech, depositing it past Roy with a slick forehand-backhand top shelf move.

“Our best players were our best players,” said Grizzlies coach Tim Branham of Aubin, Pelech and Krushelnyski. “They’ve been like that all series.”

The remainder of the period after this highlight-reel play became somewhat chippy, with both teams taking a couple penalties. Idaho pressed the action again and forced a couple more impressive saves from Bobkov, including one on a Steelheads breakaway, and the frame ended with the Grizzlies leading 2-0.

The Grizzlies could see the finish line of the series as the third period got started, but conversely, the Steelheads were in full-on desperation mode. They pressed forward and brought pressure in the Utah zone, but Bobkov remained equal to the task through the first section of the frame and another Idaho power play.

And with just over three minutes remaining, the Grizzlies counter-attacked following yet another Bobkov save to seal the series victory. TJ Snyder caught the Steelheads’ defense coming forward too aggressively, darting behind them and taking a pass from captain Channing Boe before feeding a streaking Hayes cross-ice to make it 3-0.

Utah’s second-round opponent is not yet determined, but will be either Colorado or Ontario, against either of whom the Grizzlies will go on the road. Team officials said Utah’s home games will begin at the Maverik Center Wednesday, May 6, and continue Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9 (if necessary) in a 2-3-2 home format.

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Ben Dowsett


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