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WEST VALLEY CITY — The Utah Grizzlies twice rallied from down a goal, defeating the Ontario Reign 4-2 Wednesday night to pull within a 2-1 deficit in their second-round ECHL playoff series.
The win followed consecutive losses to open the series in Ontario, one an overtime thriller and the other a blowout defeat.
The Reign came out blistering to start the game, pinning the Grizzlies deep in their own end for long stretches at a time and controlling the play completely. The Grizzlies were barely able to enter the Ontario zone for the first 10 minutes, only generating their first shot just over nine minutes into the period. The Reign capitalized on their strong play at the 7:42 mark following nearly a full minute of offensive zone time, with a tic-tac-toe passing play resulting in a backhand goal from Ontario’s Rocco Carzo.
The flow of play flipped on its head at this point, however. From the ensuing faceoff following Ontario’s goal, the Grizzlies seized the initiative and dominated the game for the next several minutes. They cashed in to tie the game one second before the 10-minute mark in the period, with zone control following an Ontario icing leading to a shot from Ryan Hayes that was tipped home nicely by Michael Pelech to knot the game at one.
The Grizzlies outshot the Reign 10-2 over the remainder of the frame, but the period ended with the same 1-1 score.
The home side again came out slow as molasses to start the second period. The Grizzlies did hold the Reign to less significant opportunities, but could find no chances of their own and this time didn’t have a shot for the first 12 minutes of the frame. The Reign made the most of their control again just over 11 minutes into the period, with a wrist shot from Derek Couture trickling through Grizzlies goalie Igor Bobkov before being jammed home from the goal line by Ontario’s Josh Brittain.
Bobkov was replaced in the net by Eric Levine for the second consecutive game after this second goal, but it didn’t do much for the momentum of the game in their favor, with Utah’s Matt Pelech taking a silly and dangerous major boarding penalty with just over 12 minutes gone in the period to put the Grizzlies on a five-minute penalty kill.
The tides changed once again during the man disadvantage, however. Michael Pelech was in on the action once again for the Grizzlies, stealing the puck from an Ontario player at center ice before cruising in two-on-none with Snyder and taking a give-and-go pass for a pretty shorthanded goal, his second of the game, to tie the game back up at two.
Every single time we've put him in the net, he's been there for us. He's a gamer, he comes to play no matter what his situation is. Obviously we're very happy to have him.
–Grizzlies coach Tim Branham on backup goalie Eric Levine
“It just kinda hit my shin pad,” Pelech said of his second goal. “I thought I had a breakaway, and looked up and saw [Snyder], and he made a great play back to me. It was an easy tap-in.
Two consecutive Ontario penalties following the equalizer ran out the remainder of the five-minute major, and the period ended at 2-2, a success for the Grizzlies given the degree to which they were outplayed.
Neither team was in control for the first half of the third period, but the Grizzlies struck first on a seemingly innocuous chance. Captain Channing Boe fired an innocent-looking wrist shot from the point nine minutes into the period, and it was deflected deftly by Camden Wojtala into the side of the net for a 3-2 Utah lead.
“The only way to beat an unbelievable goalie who’s making big saves is to get net traffic,” said Grizzlies coach Tim Branham of the two goals his team scored from tips in front of the net.
Ontario pressed as time wore down in the period, with replacement goalie Levine making a couple of fine saves. An ill-advised too-many-men penalty for the Grizzlies with three minutes left threw the outcome into doubt, particularly when the Reign pulled goalie Jussi Olkinuora for a six-on-four advantage. But Mathieu Aubin got his stick on a loose puck in the Grizzlies’ end and sent it the full length of the ice off the boards into the empty net with just under a minute left to seal the game at 4-2.
“Every single time we’ve put him in the net, he’s been there for us,” said Branham of fill-in Levine’s shutout performance over two periods. “He’s a gamer, he comes to play no matter what his situation is. Obviously we’re very happy to have him.”
Game four of the best-of-seven series will be played at the Maverik Center Friday night at 7 p.m. local time. The Grizzlies guaranteed that a fifth game in the 2-3-2 format would also take place Saturday night at the same time and location.