Two things needed to happen for the Utah Grizzlies to secure their ninth straight playoff berth as they took the ice against the Alaska Aces Friday night at the Maverik Center: beat their division rivals coupled with a Tulsa defeat at the hands of Quad City. Both occurred. Utah beat the Aces for the ninth time in 10 games this season 6-2 and Quad City defeated Tulsa 5-3.
With three games left in the season and first place still undecided in the West Division, at least Utah knows it will be pursuing the Kelly Cup.
"We've had a good season thus far and this team wants to win," head coach Tim Branham said.
Utah ceded an early goal to Alaska off the stick of Alex Hajdukovich, then responded with a fury, tallying a total of 20 shots and two goals in the frame. At the 11:25 mark, Barry Almeida notched his 25th goal of the season.
Matt Berry blazed the back of the net to make it 2-1 Utah.
A bevy of fights ensued throughout, resulting in several penalties. When the melee's subsided, the Grizzlies came out on top, increasing their lead to 4-2. Alex Krushelnyski logged his 24th goal of the season at the 5:03 mark and Ryan Hayes followed with his 11th goal since being acquired in February. Hayes leads Utah with the most goals in that span.
Brent Gwidt and Almeida thwarted any thoughts of a comeback in the third as each scored, ending the onslaught against the overmatched Aces.
"This is crunch time right now," Gwidt said. "We need to be playing our best hockey regardless of who it is we're facing."