ECHL playoffs: Grizzlies ousted
West Valley City » Five minutes in the playoffs can seem like an eternity.
It must have felt that way for the Utah Grizzlies, who couldn't recover from allowing four consecutive goals in the third period in a 5-2 season-ending loss to the Alaska Aces in the Kelly Cup playoffs Saturday.
Alaska won the best-of-seven series 4-1.
"We weathered the storm in the second but fell short in the third," said Utah goalie Mike Mole, who saved 24 shots in a scintillating second period to keep the game scoreless. "Playoff time, your emotions are so high, it gives you extra energy. We had a couple of mental breakdowns, and (Alaska) preys on guys making mistakes. We went down fighting."
Mole finished the game stopping 43 of the Aces' 47 shots. Alaska put on the finishing touches with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Despite being out-shot 24-5 in the second period, the Grizzlies netted the game's first goal just three minutes into the third on Vladimir Nikiforov's one-timer. It was the first time Alaska trailed in regulation in the series.
That's when Utah's defense collapsed. Josh Soares scored twice to lead a four-goal outburst in a five-minute span, as the Aces took control.
"The pressure was wearing on our guys, and we just had mental breakdowns," Utah coach Kevin Colley said. "We didn't get frustrated and kept on playing hard. The guys never stopped working hard."
Colley took particular note of Mole's performance, praising his goalie for keeping the Grizzlies in the game and having a chance to win.
"He was awesome, that's one word to describe it," Colley said. "He came in and wanted to redeem himself from yesterday. Hats off to him."
The Grizzlies cut the lead in half, 4-2, on James Sixsmith's goal with eight minutes remaining to play, but couldn't get closer.
Experience played a major factor in the outcome, Colley said.
"We wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad and don't have the experience, you make mental mistakes," he said. "We were generating shots, but nothing was finding the back of the net.
"[Getting here] is not gratifying. We didn't win the Kelly Cup."
Despite the loss, Utah's players took solace in the fact they exposed some kinks in the armor of the National Conference champions.
"We exposed some things at times, but weren't consistent in finding ways to do it this series," Mole said. "We just fell short, and that seemed to be the common theme in a few games this series."
Alaska scores four unanswered goals in the third period after Utah takes a 1-0 lead.
» Utah goalie Mike Mole stops 43 of 47 shots, including a barrage in the second period.
» Vladimir Nikiforov puts the Grizzlies ahead 1-0 in the third period on a one-timer.
Game One » Alaska 2, Utah 0
Game Two » Alaska 2, Utah 0
Game Three » Utah 3, Alaska 2 (OT)
Game Four » Alaska 5, Utah 2
Game Five » Alaska 5, Utah 2