The Utah Grizzlies have played their best hockey of the season since the beginning of the year, going 8-2-2-2 in their last 14 games, despite being undermanned due to injuries and call-ups for the better part of that stretch.
On Friday, the Grizz welcomed back several key players to the lineup just in time to beat the Bakersfield Condors, 3-2, in a matchup of two of the ECHL’s hottest teams.
“We had five guys who are really important to us come back to our lineup,” said coach Tim Branham. “[Bakersfield] has been hot since Christmas, and it’s big to get a lot of leadership … back into our lineup.”
As has been the case in several of goaltender Aaron Dell’s 11 wins with Utah, the defense lapsed early and allowed an early goal before Dell settled down to completely dominate the opposition.
Less than four minutes into the first period, Bakersfield scored on its second shot of the night, leaving Dell to work his magic by saving all but one of the Condors’ following 26 shots.
“Occasionally we come out a little bit sleepy and other teams have capitalized on that,” said Dell. “But we have done it a couple of times too where we have come out and [scored] an early one. We’ve just got to come ready every night.”
At 10:57 in the first period, Utah’s Jamie MacQueen corralled the puck off a faceoff in Utah’s offensive zone and fired a shot just inside of the blue line to tie the game, 1-1. And less than three minutes into the second period, MacQueen struck again as he received a pass from teammate Mathieu Aubin and darted past Bakersfield’s lone defender before scoring his second goal of the night on a nifty backhanded shot.
MacQueen, playing in his first game since returning from his latest stint in the AHL, has now recorded 12 goals and seven assists for 19 points in just 19 games for the Grizzlies.
“I was going through a tough stretch there before I got the call-up, so it’s good to get the monkey off the back,” said MacQueen. “I like to lead by example. I always feel if I’m going, guys will follow suit.”
Bakersfield drew back-to-back penalties midway through the second period, effectively giving the team a one-man advantage for four straight minutes, but Utah promptly killed the power plays and continued to pour on the pressure.
And less than three minutes before the second intermission, Danick Paquette skated through the crease and wristed home the game-winning goal.
Grizzlies 3, Condors 2
O Utah extends its season-best home unbeaten streak to nine games, a stretch dating back to Dec. 28.
• The Grizzlies return to a .500 record for the first time since starting 1-1-1-1.