WEST VALLEY CITY — For the first time in nearly 10 years, the Utah Grizzlies failed to show up for a potentially series-clinching game Sunday night.
The Grizzlies, who now own a narrow 3-2 series lead, were a perfect 5-0 in elimination games dating back to 2008 before falling to the Eagles 5-2 at the Maverik Center as they head back to Colorado for a pivotal game 6.
“We had some guys where we just didn’t get their best effort today and I didn’t like our effort. We took our foot off the pedal for a little bit and had too many guys waiting for the next guy to make plays. You’re only as good as your weakest link, and we’ve got to make sure everybody is on board,” Utah head coach Tim Branham said.
Both teams came out a little sluggish in the first period before Utah was able to get things rolling in the second.
The Grizzlies capitalized on a power play just over four minutes into the second period when Mike Ratchuk and Charles Sarault hooked up with Jon Puskar, who then finished with the goal to take an early 1-0 edge.
After establishing some momentum, Utah remained on the attack and extended its lead to 2-0 just three minutes later off a tremendous assist from Connor Hardowa and goal from Matt Berry to put Colorado on its heels.
“It’s a game of momentum, especially in the playoffs. One bounce here and one bounce there, one time your ball is in and the next time you’re on your heels. That’s just playoff hockey — you’ve just got to stick to the grind and hope for those good bounces,” Puskar said.
And then, in a matter of minutes, the bounces went south and the wheels began to fall off.
With their backs up against the wall, the Eagles began to play with some urgency and got back into the game when forward Jesse Mychan found the net in the final 2:30 to cut their deficit in half and ignite a late push.
The visitors' intensity seemed to wear down the Grizzlies and, during a power play just one minute later, completely took the wind out of their sail by scoring two more times in the final 1:21 of the second period — led by Mychan's hockey assist and spectacular last-minute goal — to take a 3-2 lead and all the momentum.
“We got very complacent. I didn’t like our effort and without the puck we weren’t very good or intense. With 2:30 to go we made some bad mistakes, one right after another, and we learned a valuable lesson tonight,” said Branham. “You’ve got to make sure that when you’re playing a desperate hockey team, you’ve got to play a full 60 minutes."
Despite losing just one game at home when scoring first all year, Utah wasn't ever able to fully recover from its second-period miscues and seemed completely deflated in the final period as Colorado took complete control.
The Eagles went on to add two more goals in the final 20 minutes, both of which were scored by forward Trent Daavettila, to clinch the critical road win and stay alive.
The Grizzlies, despite facing a team with the ECHL's third-best home record, have won two games in Colorado this season — including a 3-2 road win in Game 1 — and will need to duplicate that same success in either game 6 or 7 to clinch the series.
“We’ve won two there already. Right now, they’re 1-1 at home in the playoffs. Whatever happened in the regular season is out the window now. It’s all do-or-die from here on out for both teams. So we’re going in with confidence — if we put together a full game, it’s going to be a battle,” Puskar said.
Game 6 is set to get underway Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Ryan Love is a full-time student and has been a part-time sportswriter for Deseret News since October 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724