Separated by a point in the standings, it was to be expected that the contest between the Utah Grizzlies and Tulsa Oilers would be a chippy affair.
Featuring plenty of fighting and tied at 1-1 with 20 minutes of hockey remaining, it was the Oilers who scored twice in the period as Tulsa drew first blood in the three-game series, skating to a 3-1 victory.
Despite being outshot by a 2-to-1 ratio in the first period, it was Utah who got on the board first.
Gritty defenseman Chris Leibinger received a crisp pass from Kyle Thomas, skated a few feet closer to the net, and fired a laser for the Grizzlies’ lone goal of the contest.
Tulsa seemed the hungrier of the two clubs in the third period, relegating Utah to a paltry six shots on net. With an empty net, Tulsa’s Garrett Ladd buried a puck, sealing Utah’s fate on the evening.
Beneficiaries of a sustained four-minute power play should have been good news for the Utah Grizzlies, but it wasn’t. Tulsa intercepted a puck in their defensive zone and an odd-man rush was successful as Justin Selman deposited the puck in the back of the net for a short-handed goal.
Tulsa goalie Jake Hildebrand stifled Utah’s potent offense, making several spectacular glove saves and limiting the Grizzlies to one successful shot on net.
With the Grizzlies’ offense struggling, Oiler forward Conner Bleakley made the home team pay the price, spinning and firing a top-shelf bullet for what turned out to be the winning goal.
Following the unexpected departure of goalie Kevin Carr, who left to play for a club in Europe, head coach Tim Branham was left scrambling for a solid netminder. He found one in Sean Maguire, who was good in his Maverik Center debut, stopping 38 of 40 shots.
“Our third-period effort wasn’t good enough,” Utah coach Tim Branham said. “We have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Tulsa and Utah play the second game of their three-game series at 7 p.m. Friday at Maverik Center