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Utah Grizzlies swept out of ECHL playoffs

WEST VALLEY CITY — The Utah Grizzlies knew they absolutely, positively couldn't have a repeat of Game 3 when Game 4 of their best-of-seven series against the Idaho Steelheads in the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs rolled around.

In taking a commanding 3-0 series lead over Utah, the Steelheads had blitzed Utah from the start of Game 3 and scored three first-period goals before cruising to an emphatic victory.

Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, that same script unfolded in Game 4 on Friday, and the end result was a series sweep for Idaho and elimination for Utah.

Idaho jumped all over Utah early on en route to a 3-0 lead after the first period, and the Steelheads successfully closed out the Grizzlies from there, eventually winning 4-1 before 2,870 fans at the E Center.

"They're pretty disappointed and upset, there's no question," said Utah coach Kevin Colley of his players. "We didn't achieve the goal that we set out to do. It's tough. We just couldn't get to that gear against a hockey club like that."

On Friday, the Idaho Steelheads left no doubt whatsoever about who was the better team in the series.

Mark McCutcheon scored off a rebound to put Idaho ahead 9:50 into the first period, and the Steelheads never looked back.

Evan Barlow scored a second Idaho goal just over two minutes later, and Brandan Kushniruk added a killer third with just seven seconds to go in the period.

"One goal is not a big deal, but it seems like when they get one, they get two, they get three, and before you know it, it's three-nothing," said Utah forward James Sixsmith. "The goal at the end of the first period just killed us."

It also killed Utah to have Idaho goaltender Richard Bachman in between the pipes.

Bachman turned the Grizzlies away at every turn in Game 4 — and throughout the series — and made it nearly impossible for Utah to get back into the game.

"Our biggest (part) of the game plan was we had to go out and get that first goal, and we needed some momentum," said Colley. "You have to give their goalie some credit. He made some key saves at the right times, and we couldn't get anything sustained."

Bachman saved 32 of 33 shots in Game 4 and was stellar throughout the series.

"It just wasn't meant to be," said Colley of the fact his guys kept battling after the first period but couldn't beat Bachman until it was too late. "We had guys in the side of the net there, and he comes over and makes a save. That's just the way things were going. We couldn't get anything by him.

"He had an unbelievable series, and he was definitely their MVP."

Added Utah forward Tom May: "Their goalie really did play a heck of a game."

All of which led to Utah's elimination. Sixsmith said he'd love to have seen what Utah could have done if it had its entire team on the ice in the postseason, but the Grizzlies never ultimately got that chance.

"It's a combination of a lot of things," said Sixsmith of why the Grizzlies were eliminated. "And nobody did a poor job; it is what it is. We didn't have our best team on the ice. We've had a better team on the ice at different times of the year.

"We were able to get by Vegas (in the first round) just because we were that much better, but when you're playing the best team in the conference — they were 30 points ahead of us for a reason because they had the same nucleus of guys the whole season."

e-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com