The Utah Grizzlies thought they had made a powerful statement early in Tuesday night's game against Las Vegas, scoring three goals before most fans had a chance to get settled. But in the end, the Thunder struggled to get the last word, beating Utah 5-4 in a seemingly endless shootout in front of 5,968 fans at the Delta Center.
The loss was Utah's fourth straight this season against rival Las Vegas, and it ended a three-game winning streak. Utah fell four points behind Las Vegas in the race for leadership of the Southwest Division. The Grizzlies now have a 13-10-2 record and continue to slump after winning nine of their first 12 games.The winning goal, scored by Sergei Zholtok, came during the 16th round of the overtime shootout period, after each team had gone through its entire lineup of shooters. Ironically, Utah was at a disadvantage because it had more healthy players and was forced to use everyone in the shootout period. Las Vegas, meanwhile, was able to start over with its best shooters more quickly. Both goalies allowed two goals during the first five rounds, then held tight as shooter after shooter failed to find the net.
For Utah coach Butch Goring, the loss was disappointing, considering how quickly the Grizzlies went ahead 3-0. "We stopped playing," he said. "Everybody in the building, including our team, thought the game was over when we were up 3-0. We weren't the same hockey team after that."
Good things came in threes for both teams. Utah scored its first three goals before four minutes were gone in the first period. Right wing Daniel Marois scored two and center Brett Lievers added another. The furious barrage was impressive enough for Las Vegas Coach Chris McSorley to yank goalie Parris Duffus in favor of Andrei Mezin.
As it turned out, the change was fortuitous. Duffus had allowed goals in three of his first five opportunities. Mezin ended up stopping 23 of the next 24 Utah shots, including several spectacular saves in the third period.
Las Vegas' string of three goals came in the second period after center Chris Taylor gave the Grizzlies a 4-1 lead. The Thunder scored two goals in 14 seconds, off Zholtok and right wing Patrice Lefebvre. Right wing Martin Gendron added another goal with only 31 seconds left in the period off a slap shot from 15 feet in front of the goal.
With the game tied 4-4, both teams skated through a scoreless third period. Utah had two four-minute power plays, one in the second and the other in the third period, but failed to score on either one.
Goring has worried about making a statement against Las Vegas, a team the Grizzlies beat in the playoffs last year and probably will have to beat this year to repeat as Turner Cup champions. Four straight losses gives the Thunder confidence, he said.
"When you raise the question of whether you can compete against these guys, you have to be able to go out and win," he said. "It's disappointing. We should have had a win."
The Grizzlies next play at Chicago Wednesday night, part of a grueling stretch in which the team plays four games in five nights.