The Utah Grizzlies were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief heading into Saturday night's regular-season finale against the Missouri Mavericks. Due to the Idaho Steelheads defeating the Alaska Aces on Friday night, Utah was able to secure its 10th straight playoff appearance.
But to say that the Grizzlies backed into the playoffs would be wrong. Since Jan. 6, when the team was 14 points behind for the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division, Utah has been on a tear, accumulating a 22-12- 3-1 record, including Saturday's 5-3 victory.
"It's a character group we have and they know what it takes to win," Utah coach Tim Branham said.
"Our boys never said die. But we know we have our work cut out for us and we better be ready."
Utah indeed has a tall task at hand as they'll face the Mountain Division and two-time defending Kelly Cup Champion Allen Americans. The Grizzlies will travel to Allen for games one and two on Wednesday and Friday. Utah will return home for games three through five on April 19, April 21, and April 22 .
As for the game itself, both teams put on a show as play was fast paced up and down the ice for the duration. In the end, Utah bounced back from a one-goal deficit twice, led by C.J. Eick's two goals, to defeat the Mavericks.
Utah clung to a 3-2 lead when Missouri forward Connor Bleackley tied the contest just 58 seconds into the third period. The Grizzlies weren't going to be denied a victory, though, as C.J. Eick scored the game winner, followed up by Tim Daly's insurance goal.
A flurry of scoring occurred in the second period as a total of four goals were scored in the first seven minutes of the frame, three coming off the sticks of Grizzlie skaters. Jon Puskar, Erik Bradford and Eick all were successful against an overwhelmed Mavericks goalie in Josh Robinson. The lone Missouri goal was recorded by Matt Robertson.
Missouri scored the lone goal of the first period when Dane Fox tallied his 34 th of the season.