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Grizzlies let another late lead slip away

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WEST VALLEY CITY — Add a word to the list of things the Utah Grizzlies are losing or would like to lose these days. After Friday night's 4-3 loss to Manitoba, Grizz center Jim Montgomery is all for eliminating "hope" from the team's vocabulary.

"You've got to make things happen," he said following Utah's third straight setback — each at the expense of blown leads.

It's an unwelcome pattern for a team with one home date remaining before 17 straight on the road while the E Center serves as the Olympic hockey venue.

"We have to be mentally stronger when we have a lead and not make those mistakes that hurt us," said Grizz coach Don Hay. "It's a little bit of frustration that's creeping into our game. We just have to focus on how we play."

Utah (23-18-3-2), which fell out of a tie for first with Grand Rapids in the Western Division, drew eight penalties in the final 20 minutes. And that, according to Montgomery, is how the Grizz let yet another one slip away.

Leading 2-0 after a scoreless second period, Utah saw its advantage dissolve quickly. Manitoba needed less than three minutes to even things up. Ryan Ready and Brandon Reid broke Grizz rookie Andrew Allen's bid for a shutout with goals just 44 seconds apart.

Though Utah quickly reclaimed its lead when Justin Cox scored on a pass from Marcus Kristoffersson at 3:47, the momentum shift lacked staying power.

The Moose roared back with a pair of goals in the final 4:05 to seize control. Ready tied the score, while Herbert Vasiljevs had the game-winner on Manitoba's third breakaway goal.

The loss overshadowed an impressive AHL debut by Allen. He wound up making 36 saves.

"He did a great job," said Hay. "It's too bad we couldn't have won for him."

Allen, who is on loan to Utah from Macon of the ECHL, made his debut after spending six games waiting in the wings as an emergency back-up. He was added to the Grizz roster when top goaltender Wade Flaherty suffered a leg injury (he's listed as day-to-day) and Chad Alban moved into the No. 1 slot.

It took a quirk in the schedule, however, for Allen to finally get off the bench. In the midst of a three-games-in-three-nights stretch, Hay opted to give Alban a day off.

Manitoba challenged Allen early. He made 13 saves before gaining a margin of error. That's when Cameron Mann scored off an assist by Jim Montgomery to put the Grizz ahead at 13:13 of the first period.

Utah doubled its lead six minutes later on a power-play goal by John Purves. The veteran, who was assisted on the play by Gavin Morgan and Mann, played for the first time since Dec. 15. He was sidelined with a neck injury.

The Grizz and Moose square off again tonight at 7. It'll be Utah's last home game until Feb. 28.

SLAP SHOTS: The attendance was 6,483 . . . Darrell Hay, the son of Grizz coach Don Hay, is no longer on the Manitoba roster. The defenseman was recently assigned to the ECHL's Columbia Inferno . . . The Moose are the top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks . . . Manitoba is now 3-0-0 at the E Center this season.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com