The Utah Grizzlies are one loss away from being sent on the franchise's earliest-ever summer vacation.
And the Kansas City Blades are just one win away from finally getting some revenge on the Grizzlies.With its 3-2 victory Friday night at Kemper Arena, Kansas City took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five first-round series with Utah.
Kansas City took advantage of a turnover by Utah's Kip Miller to get the game-winner. Defenseman Claudio Scremin grabbed the puck and his shot was deflected in the net by Mike Craig with 1:46 remaining.
The Blades, who have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Grizz three years in a row, can clinch the series tonight at home. Game 4 begins at 6:30 and can be heard on 630 AM.
"The good thing is we get to go back out at it tomorrow," said Utah defenseman Jeff Sharples. "We've gotta play with desperation tomorrow. If not, guys are going to find out Sunday morning that the season is over."
Utah apparently forgot to pack its power play when it traveled to Kansas City the other day.
The Grizzlies had nine power-play opportunities but they failed to find the back of the net on all of them. Utah even squandered a few tries it had with a 5-on-3 man advantage.
"We gotta get our special teams going a little better," Sharples said. "We definitely got our chances, but it was a post here, a bar there. When it rains it pours."
Kansas City goalie Peter Skudra was the biggest reason for that. He got the start in goal over Pokey Reddick and went on to make 40 of 42 saves. It was Skudra's first playoff game with the Blades since he was sent down from Pittsburgh this week.
On the other end of the ice, the Grizzlies continued to play musical goalies.
Utah netminder Philippe DeRouville, who was in goal during Utah's 4-3 win on Wednesday, wasn't able to play because of food poisoning. Because of that, the Grizz used their third different starter in as many games.
After being benched for the first two playoff games, Jamie Ram gave the Grizz a solid outing and made 27 saves in his first-ever IHL playoff appearance. The loss, however, was his fifth in a row dating back to the end of the regular season.
For the third straight game, the Grizzlies jumped to the early lead. Mark Lawrence scored the game's first goal at 7:59 of the first period.
Utah had been on four power plays and had outshot Kansas City 13-0 when Lawrence scored his wrap-around goal. The tide turned, though, as the Blades went on to take 14 shots compared to two by Utah the rest of the period.
Defenseman Shawn Heins knotted the game at 1-all at 12:40 of the first with a power-play goal. That was the first point K.C. had scored in the opening period of the series.
The Blades then took their first regulation lead of the series on Dean Ferschweiler's goal 2:45 into the second period.
Kansas City held that 2-1 lead until Vladimir Orszagh turned a turnover into his first playoff goal with 7:40 left in the game.
The game appeared to be headed to the second overtime of the series, but Miller coughed up the puck to pave the way for Craig's game-winning goal.
The late breakdown spoiled an overall solid performance by the Grizzlies, who have never been eliminated in the first round in their four-year history.
"Our effort was great, it was outstanding," Sharples said. "Our guys played their hearts out. It was just one of those nights the puck just didn't bounce our way."
BLADES VS. GRIZZ
First round (Best-of-five)
Kansas City leads 2-1
Kansas City 4, Utah 3
Utah 4, Kansas City 3
Kansas City 3, Utah 2
Game 4 - Saturday
Utah at Kansas City, 6:30 p.m.
*Game 5 - Monday
Kansas City at Utah, 7 p.m.