After a miserable performance by his team in a loss Wednesday night, Utah Grizzlies coach Butch Goring said he felt certain the team would play better on Friday. He was right, eventually. Utah defeated last-place San Antonio, 6-3. But for awhile, his certainty seemed like a cruel joke.

San Antonio jumped on the Grizzlies early, scoring a goal only 30 seconds after the opening faceoff, slapping the puck past goalie Mark McArthur. Utah tied the game 29 seconds later, then took the lead two minutes after that, only to have the Dragons tie the game with a blistering slap shot four minutes after that.It was the kind of free-wheeling, wide-open hockey game that makes the fans cheer and the coaches cringe.

"They (the Dragons) had nothing to lose," Goring said. "They can play a wide-open style. We can't afford to let that happen."

As a result, the Grizzlies got a lecture during the first intermission about the importance game. "I wanted to make them (the Grizzlies) aware that these games are important to us," Goring said. "We have a chance to finish first in our division. We have to be sharper than that."

Fortunately, Utah heeded the coach's advice. The Grizzlies controlled the tempo in the second and third periods, adding goals by Niklas Andersson, John LeBlanc and Mark Lawrence. Lawrence scored three goals in the game, his second hat trick this season against the Dragons.

The game was indeed important for the Grizzlies. While they were winning, first-place Long Beach lost to third-place Houston, 3-1. That means Utah, now 42-18-8, is in second place only four points behind Long Beach. The Grizzlies play San Antonio again Saturday night at the E Center, then travel to Long Beach for a Sunday afternoon game.

Long Beach, meanwhile, plays Houston again Saturday night. Clearly, if the Grizzlies are going to make a run at first place, this would be the time. Under a best-case scenario, they could be tied for first place by Monday morning.

SLAP SHOTS: The Grizzlies wore green uniforms Friday in honor of St. Patrick's Day and to help the Muscular Distrophy Association. The jerseys were auctioned off after the game to raise money for the charity . . . Utah has the best home record in the IHL, 24-7-3 . . . Lawrence has now scored 30 goals on the season, the most on the team . . . The Grizzlies have won eight of 11 games against San Antonio this season, including the last four in a row . . . attendance was 9,208.