The Utah Grizzlies and Colorado Eagles have been about as evenly matched as two teams can possibly be. Over their past eight contests, each team has won four games and aggregate scoring is dead even at 27-27.
It comes as no surprise, then, that entering Thursday's contest their best of seven playoff series was tied at one game apiece, with each game having been decided by a lone goal. With the series shifting to the Maverik Center for a pivotal game three, the Grizzlies staved off the Eagles, winning 3-2 in a grueling contest to take a crucial 2-1 series lead.
"Overall we played a really solid game from top to bottom. We were good five on five and did a good job controlling the puck. We just need to stay a bit more disciplined going forward and to cut down on our penalties," Utah coach Tim Branham said.
Clinging to a precarious one-goal lead as the third period began, Erik Higby ripped a shot off a deflection from Mark Cantin at point blank range to put the Grizzlies ahead 3-1 at 1:05. Although no one knew it at the time, the goal proved to be the game winner as Colorado cut the deficit to 3-2 off the stick of Kyle Kraemer shortly after.
The Grizzlies began the game as the beneficiaries of three consecutive Eagles penalties, but although they held a man advantage during the first 10 minutes of play, they were unable to muster a goal. Oddly enough, the Grizzlies seemed to be better at even strength or short-handed. At 16:20 of the first, Eric Knodel broke the deadlock, rifling a shot from the right wing at 16:20 to put the Grizzlies ahead 1-0.
A short-handed opportunity presented itself in the second as forward Ryan Hayes grabbed a loose puck, drifted down the ice, glided behind the net and found an open teammate in Marc Cantin, who nestled a shot into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead at 2:40.
Toward the end of the second, two simultaneous penalties to Utah proved costly as Colorado was on a five-on-three power play. Phil Pietroniro and Jon Puskar were relegated to the box for slashing and boarding and Utah was unable to stave off the Colorado attack as Kyle Ostrow cut the deficit to 2-1 at 15:18.
Utah's defense was stifling throughout the contest, relegating the Eagles to 19 shots, including a meager two in the first period. "There's more to defense than just the defensemen. All of us are taking it upon ourselves to try and slow down Colorado's attack," Cantin said.
Utah will look to put a stranglehold on the series as the two teams will square off again Saturday night.