HOUSTON — The longest scoreless streak in franchise history has come to an end for the Utah Grizzlies. And that killer of a power-play slump is over, too.

Hold off the celebration party, though. The same can almost be said for their stay in the playoffs.

It only lasted momentarily, but a faint pulse was detected in Utah's near-dead offense. In the second period, defenseman Ted Crowley managed to get the puck past Houston goaltender extraordinaire Frederic Chabot. The rare goal — it was the first in almost 187 hockey minutes — gave the Grizz an even rarer lead.

But — and this is a Texas-size BUT — the Aeros took advantage of two silly Utah penalties and moved within one game of wrapping up this second round series by storming off with a 3-1 victory over the Grizz Monday at the Compaq Center.

"They're flat out playing better," said Utah coach Bob Bourne. "We're starting to generate more offense, but we're still being uptight and not playing our game."

Utah now has to somehow muster up enough offense to win three in a row — Game 5 is Wednesday at the E Center — or its postseason will be history. Only four teams in IHL history have ever made such a comeback.

"It's not impossible," Bourne said. "They've won three in a row on us."

It is improbable, however. Unless something amazing happens, Grizz employees can start putting together the year-end wrap-up video now. The playoff offensive highlight segment will be a cinch to do, considering Utah has amassed as many goals (three total) in four games as the Aeros have wins.

Monday's loss came about due to the same old combination that's doomed the Grizz — a bumbling offense, unwise penalties and incredible goaltending by Chabot.

Two penalties in particular proved costly.

Four minutes after Crowley notched Utah's first power play goal in 59 consecutive tries, Utah left winger John Purves was called for slashing. Houston's Mark Lamb made the Grizz pay as he trickled the puck between Utah goalie Rick Tabaracci's skates. Tabaracci was partially screened by another Houston player, but he was upset because the puck hit Lamb's foot after he tapped it toward the goal.

The Aeros eventually took the lead on a power play as well after Utah left winger Paul Kruse was sent to the penalty box for elbowing Houston defenseman Steve Bancroft. Terry Marchant then put Houston on top with a rebound goal — his first score in 32 games — with 9:15 remaining in the contest.

Bourne wasn't blaming anybody for the loss because of a penalty. Kruse, however, was kicking himself with his skates for having retaliated.

"(Lane) Lambert punched me in the face as hard as he could in front of the ref in the corner, and Bancroft hit me in the head a couple of times, but it's inexcusable what I did," Kruse said. "I've gotta take that for the team."

Bourne and Kruse each disapproved of the tag-team refereeing job turned in by Wes McCauley and Jeff Smith.

"I thought it was a real bad call on Kruse, very bad," Bourne said. "This is sour grapes, but they (referees) want to be a part of the game. These guys almost have to justify their jobs."

Adding to the frustration for Utah is that Chabot is dominating. Chabot recorded 22 saves Monday and has only allowed three goals in four games to a Utah team that averaged 3.23 goals a game in the regular season.


You can reach Jody Genessy by e-mail at jody@desnews.com