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Utah Grizzlies: Grizz advance to conference finals

SHARE Utah Grizzlies: Grizz advance to conference finals

WEST VALLEY CITY — Coaching in the critical Game 5 of the Grizzlies' second-round Kelly Cup playoff game Sunday at the E Center to eliminate the Victoria Salmon Kings wasn't that hard, said Utah coach Jason Christie.

All he had to do was mention the 12-hour bus/plane/ferry journey to Victoria if the Grizzlies lost Sunday in the best-of-seven series.

That, said Christie, and a prediction last week in a Victoria newspaper that the Salmon Kings would win the series in six games, was enough to motivate Utah to its highest playoff goal total in its three-year ECHL history in an 8-3 Salmon fry that eliminated the higher-seeded Fish Kings and bought Utah a ticket to the National Conference finals against conference regular-season champion Las Vegas.

That series won't begin until Monday, May 12, in Las Vegas — an eight-day layoff for Utah and a 10-day layoff for the Wranglers, who eliminated Alaska in five games last Friday night.

Sunday's explosion tied Utah's season high set Nov. 2 at, appropriately enough, Las Vegas in an 8-5 win.

This is the furthest the Grizzlies have ever gotten in the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs, and it's the first time Las Vegas, which has been in the league much longer and had more regular-season successes than Utah, has ever advanced past the second round. The Grizzlies, a No. 3 seed in the ECHL West Division, have now knocked off the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the West.

For Christie, it's the first time he has coached a team past the second round since his rookie coaching year at then-ECHL Peoria in 2001.

For a team that's been red hot since the middle of last Wednesday's Game 3, when it began overcoming a 5-1 deficit against Victoria to come back and win 7-5, a long layoff may not be the best thing, but the Grizzlies are eager for it — and to have today and perhaps Tuesday off from practice.

"Well, we've got some banged-up guys in our dressing room," said Grizzly defenseman Andrew MacDonald, "and I think this rest is going to be really good for our guys. We've got some real warriors here, guys that are really banged up, and they really need the rest.

"That was another thing we wanted to win for was to get those guys some rest, give us an opportunity to just lay low for a bit."

MacDonald, who was returned to Utah from its AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, in time to play the last game of the Grizzlies' regular season, had an assist on Utah's fifth goal Sunday, one of three it scored on power plays. Keith Johnson got that one at 12:20 of the second period.

In Sunday's blowout, which went to 8-1 before Victoria got two late goals, 12 different Grizzlies got points.

Olivier Labelle, who had his first goal in nine games in Saturday's 2-0 Utah win to push the Salmon Kings to the brink of elimination, had two more goals and an assist Sunday. Defenseman James Sanford had three assists, forward Ryan Cruthers had two assists and forward Ryan Kinasewich had the game's first goal for the second game in a row, also a backhander from midway up the slot, plus an assist. Rob Sirianni and Micheal Haley each had a goal and an assist.

Utah went into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead, but Labelle's first score, at 2:18 of the second on a power play, started a six-goal barbecue, Sirianni scoring Utah's last at 4:45 of the third.

Labelle now has four points in his last four periods of play.

"That's the story of my life, right?" said the hustling right wing from St. Eustache, Quebec. "I'm not the guy with the most talent, but when things go my way, I mean, I work hard, and sometimes things just start to click.

"First goal, got a little lucky. Hit my skate, but I was driving (to the) net. Second goal, I was right there in the paint where it's hard to get goals, and the puck just appeared there. I don't feel like I've done so much more than usual, it's just a matter of second senses and just working hard.

"You know what? That goal I got last night (an empty-netter) might have given me a little bit of confidence, too," said Labelle.

For the whole team, he added, "Today the puck keeps going in the net for some reason. We keep doing the simple things, and we've got to be proud of what we've accomplished so far, but at the same time, we haven't won anything.

"We're just halfway there."

E-mail: lham@desnews.com


Utah wins series 4-1

Game 1: UTAH 6, Victoria 0

Game 2: Victoria 6, UTAH 1

Game 3: UTAH 7, Victoria 5

Game 4: UTAH 2, Victoria 0

Game 5: UTAH 8, Victoria 3



Game 1: May 12, 8 p.m.

at Las Vegas

Game 2: May 13, 8 p.m.

at Las Vegas

Game 3: May 15, 7 p.m.

at Utah

Game 4: May 16, 7 p.m.

at Utah

Game 5: May 18, 7 p.m.

at Utah (if necessary)

Game 6: May 20, 8 p.m.

at Las Vegas (if necessary)

Game 7: May 21, 8 p.m.

at Las Vegas (if necessary)

All times Mountain