Tommy Salo has come up with amazing saves so many times during the playoffs that the Utah Grizzlies almost take it for granted that he'll be there any time they're in peril.
And as expected, the Swedish goalie was between the pipes making huge saves when it counted in Game 1 of the Turner Cup Finals to keep the Grizz in a tightly fought battle against the Orlando Solar Bears.But now, all of a sudden, Super Salo has a sidekick in the saving-the-game business, too.
And that dynamic duo of Salo and the suddenly hot Brett Lievers came up especially big by making a pair of heroic plays in sudden-death overtime as the Grizzlies escaped the jam-packed O-rena with a 3-2 victory against the Eastern Conference champions Sunday night.
The OT thriller gave the defending Turner Cup champs a 1-0 lead in the IHL championship series. Game 2 will be in the O-rena at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
Three minutes into the extra period, Salo - who didn't play in the Grizz's two losses against the first-year Solar Bears in the regular season - made an outstanding save on a one-on-one breakaway attempt by Solar Bear left winger Bob Joyce to keep Utah alive.
The huge Orlando crowd of 14,211 soon scurried to the exits quicker than if someone had yelled "fire" when Lievers made a spectacular and unassisted game-winning goal at the 12:09 mark of the sudden-death OT period.
The IHL American-born rookie of the year, who also scored the Grizz's first goal, actually fell to his knees while battling for position on a faceoff in the Solar Bear zone. But when he stood up the puck was sitting right in front of him. He took control of it and made a dazzling side-step maneuver around Orlando defenseman Brad Tiley, and then proceeded to get Solar Bear goalie Allan Bester to lunge toward him. It was all academic after that as Lievers swerved around the committed Bester and tucked the puck into the net.
"I was fortunate enough to get around (Bester). He tried to come out at me. I just cut right and had a good reach and wrapped it around him," explained Lievers of the game-winner.
After not scoring for six straight games, Lievers has now nailed five goals in the last three games. He had both the tying- and game-winning goals in Utah's 5-3 win over Las Vegas in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals and also added an important score in Game 6.
You can now officially stop associating Lievers with the words "slumping and rookie."
"Lievers is Lievers. He's a goal scorer," said Utah coach Butch Goring. "He struggled in the playoffs for a while, but he's come out of his slump like gangbusters. He's doing what we expect him to do - score goals."
"I'm feeling more confident. It feels like I've got a second wind going," said Lievers, who led the Grizz in goal-scoring during the regular season and has nine in the postseason. "I was kind of in a lull at the start of the playoffs. I'm not sure what shook me up, but I'm feeling pretty good right now."
It was evident from the beginning of the game that it was going to take an outstanding effort in order to claim a victory. The two conference champs put on a clinic on fast-skating, intelligent hockey for most of the game. But it was also clearly a style that favored the Grizzlies. They were able to control the puck for most of the game and limited the Solar Bears to just 23 shots in 72 minutes.
"It was an incredible win for us. It was an extremely well-played game on both sides," said Goring. "I was pleased with our effort. We had to play as well as we could play or otherwise we wouldn't have won the hockey game."
Neither team was able to score in the first period as the hyped battle of the goalies took centerstage.
Orlando defenseman Todd Richards scored the series' first goal as the Solar Bears were able to capitalize with the man-advantage after Utah's Victor Ignatjev had been penalized for interference.
The Grizz didn't wait long to answer, though, as Lievers tied the game at 1-all at 7:02 of the second. Lievers was in good position to tap in a rebound shot after he had forced a turnover with a solid forecheck.
The Solar Bears then made the Grizz pay for taking a penalty less than two minutes after Lievers' goal. Marc Beaufait, the IHL playoff scoring leader, slapped the puck by Salo's stick on a one-timer from the right circle for a 2-1 lead.
But the Grizz responded shortly after as Andrey Vasiljev followed up for a goal on a Bob Beers miss to tie the score at 2-2.
From that point, it turned out to be a case of which team would flinch first, which the Solar Bears finally did.
"You knew for sure it was going to be just one mistake," said Orlando coach Curt Fraser. "We had our chances, then they got theirs -and they buried it.
"I thought in overtime we had the chances to win and Salo came up big. We had Bobby Joyce on a breakaway, you couldn't ask for anything more than that."
Except for having Salo on the other end of a breakaway, that is.