By Dan Rasmussen
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – Had the Utah Grizzlies lost Wednesday evening inside the E Center, their first-round Kelly Cup playoff series against Alaska wouldn’t have been over in an official sense.
They would still have another game to play, and they would undoubtedly fight to the end.
But in every other respect, the Grizz would’ve been left for dead.
They would’ve fallen behind in their best-of-seven series, 3-0, needing to win twice in a row at the E Center just to get the series back to Alaska, where Utah is 3-17-1 all-time in Sullivan Arena.
The Grizzlies, however, made sure none of those grim hopes became reality.
Utah overcame two one-goal deficits, and Brett Beauchamp fired home the game-winner four-and-a-half minutes into overtime as the Grizzlies beat Alaska, 3-2, in Game 3 Wednesday night at the E Center.
“There’s no quit in this team,” said Utah coach Kevin Colley. “We’ve showed that all year. I told them before the game that hard work’s gonna pay off for us, and we got the job done tonight.”
Bearing in mind the daunting challenge the Grizzlies would’ve been facing had they lost on Wednesday, they were pretty much playing for their playoff lives after Matt Shasby scored to put Alaska up, 2-1, 11:57 into the third period.
To their immense credit, however, the Grizzlies didn’t panic, and they got back into the game when Vladimir Nikiforov scored his second goal of the night exactly three minutes later.
Nikiforov didn’t see the puck fired in by Mike Walsh, but he managed to get his stick out in time to beat Aces goaltender J.P. Lamoureux, who had shut out Utah in Games 1 and 2.
“I just went to the net,” said Nikiforov. “I didn’t even look back to where the puck was. I had my stick in the air, and it just hit off my stick. But that’s what we’ve got to do.”
In overtime, Beauchamp won the game for the Grizzlies when his shot from the left side nestled inside the net.
Beauchamp’s game-winner capped an extremely gritty performance from the Grizzlies, who will look to level the series at 2-2 in Game 4.
“Everyone battled,” said Colley.
In particular, goaltender Mike Mole produced several excellent saves on Wednesday, including a fantastic glove stop with just over three minutes remaining in regulation that allowed Utah to win the game in overtime.
“You can’t say enough about Mike Mole,” said Colley. “He made some huge saves throughout the game, especially in the third period. That gave us momentum, allowed us to come back and tie it up in the third period.”
Game 4 of the first-round series will be Friday at 7 p.m. at the E Center, with Game 5 to follow Saturday evening at 7.