Grizzlies 2, Cyclones 0
WEST VALLEY CITY — Whether they started a little too late to save themselves remains to be seen, but, make no mistake, the Utah Grizzlies are in serious death-bed repentance mode.
Playing perhaps their finest defensive game of the IHL season, the Grizz continued their strong, if not too tardy, playoff surge by blanking the Cincinnati Cyclones 2-0 Friday night at the E Center.
The win helped Utah match its longest unbeaten streak of the season (3-0-1) and improved the Grizzlies' record to 34-32-6. That puts them within one point of idle Chicago (75-74) for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 10 games remaining.
"I'm just dying to get in the playoffs," said Utah coach Bob Bourne.
Bourne predicts the Grizzlies "will do some damage" should they qualify for postseason action. Judging from their play Friday against the high-powered Cyclone club — the IHL leader in goals-scored — it's easy to see why he's so optimistic.
Though the Grizz only won by two goals — including an empty-netter in the final minute — they were dominant defensively. Utah outshot Cincinnati 38-17 and was able to control the puck in its own zone for most of the three periods. Goalie Mike Bales took care of the rest for his fifth shutout of the season.
"It would have been a crime to lose this one," Bourne said. "That might have been the most solid we've played defensively all year."
He credited his team's knack for excellent play in the neutral zone for the disparity in shots. It's that kind of hockey that tends to rule in the playoffs, which has Bourne licking his chops to get in.
"We got them to turn the puck over an awful lot," Bourne said. "They didn't have a lot of room to operate."
Jon Sim gave the Grizz all the breathing room it ended up needing when he scored just over six minutes into the second period. Sim's tally — his fourth goal in four games — was a thing of beauty. Richard Jackman hit him with a pass on the go right at the blue line, and Sim then whacked the puck from the circle to beat goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier for the only time on the night.
Utah's other goal came with 43 seconds remaining after Pelletier had been pulled out of goal. Jamie Wright intercepted a pass at mid-ice and dumped it in for his team-leading 22nd goal of the season.
His team lost, but Pelletier might have turned in the best outing of anybody. He prevented Utah from blowing out his teammates by turning away 37 of 38 Grizz shots before being pulled in the last minute.
Bales only had to make 17 saves, including just one shot in the second period, to improve to 19-16-2. Arguably the biggest save of the day, though, was made by teammates Greg Leeb and Alan Letang. They hustled to scoop away the puck after a Cincy player had pushed it onto the goal line with the Grizz holding a tenuous 1-0 lead midway through the third period.
That type of teamwork aptly described the win for Utah.
"It was a total team effort for 60 minutes," Bourne said.
The two teams will go at it again tonight at 7:30 in the E Center.