West Valley City • With all due respect to top seeds Alaska and Ontario, a Utah-Idaho Western Conference final in the upcoming ECHL playoffs would likely be a good one.
The Steelheads and Grizzlies concluded the regular season Saturday night at the Maverik Center, where Idaho escaped with a 3-2 shootout victory in front of 6,862 fans.
Idaho 3, Utah 2 (shootout)Idaho scores a 3-2 shootout win over Utah in the regular-season finale for both teams.
» The Grizzlies open the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Utah will face Colorado or Bakersfield in the first round.
The Grizzlies are the No. 3 seed in the West. The Steelheads are No. 4 seed. That puts them on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning they can’t meet before the conference finals.
If it happened, the series would match teams that played 14 times already this season. Nine of those games were decided by one goal.
Coach Tim Branham didn’t think Utah was sharp in defeat, but moments after Idaho prevailed in the shootout, he was looking forward to the playoffs.
"We had a hell of a regular season," Branham said. "The boys deserve a lot of credit. But now the real work starts."
The Grizzlies will play either Colorado or Bakersfield in the best-of-seven opening round.
If Bakersfield beats Las Vegas on Sunday night, Utah will face Colorado. If the Condors lose to the Wranglers, they will face the Grizzlies.
According to Branham, his players might also have been peeking ahead toward the playoffs during the meaningless finale against Idaho.
"I really felt our guys were trying not to get hurt out there," he said. "... But it is what it is."
The Grizzlies took a 1-0 lead at 3:37 of the first period when D.J. Jelitto tapped in a perfect pass from Andrew O’Brien only 31 seconds into a power play.
After Idaho’s Jason Bast scored an unassisted goal to tie the game, Utah got a little unlucky.
With 3:11 left in the period, No. 2 goal-scorer Danick Paquette was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for boarding.
Idaho didn’t score on the power play, but losing Paquette "... definitely hurts us," Branham said.
Interestingly, Paquette scored two goals in Friday night’s 3-2 win over Idaho. It looked the Steelheads took a couple of early runs at him, but Paquette was the player who ended up being ejected from the game.
Still, the Grizzlies reached the shootout despite being outshot, 32-21. But they ended up losing at home for the first time since Feb. 28.
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