WEST VALLEY CITY After two scintillating wins at Fresno to start the Kelly Cup playoffs and then coming home, the Utah Grizzlies still are winless at home in their ECHL playoff history, and for the season, they're now below .500 at home again at 15-16-2-4.
"We played against a desperate hockey club," said Utah coach Jason Christie, whose own club, "Just couldn't find the back of the net" in a 3-0 loss in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Falcons in the E Center.
"They put their life on the line tonight," said Utah captain Travis Rycroft about the Falcons, who got strong goaltending from Jake Moreland one reason they were 42-22-4-4 and second in the Pacific Division in the regular season. Moreland stopped all 37 Utah attempts, three more than Fresno got.
"This is when it comes down to your season here," Rycroft added. "We knew they were going to come hard, and we had to match that. Basically it was a 1-0 game until five minutes left.
"We had our chances early, and if we capitalize on one of them, it's a different game."
"They gave everything they had. Their goaltender kept them in the first part of the game," Christie agreed. " Until the last little bit I thought it was an up-and-down hockey game."
Fresno's Oren Eizenman scored on a 2-on-1 after a Grizzly giveaway at the blue line at 11:16 of the first period, and then it was a goaltender's duel between Moreland and Utah's Nathan Lawson until center Josh Prudden shot one from the top of the right-wing faceoff circle than eluded Lawson's glove at 15:30 of the third period. "It was from the side on the power play. He was screened a little bit," Christie said.
Utah pulled Lawson with about two minutes left, had to put him back in, then saw the puck bounce off the boards near the blue line and into the empty net for the third goal at 19:40.
The Grizzlies' loss ensured Game 5 Saturday night in the E Center, with Game 4 Friday night in West Valley City. Both are 7 p.m. starts.
Utah won 6-1 in Game 1 at Fresno and took Monday's Game 2 4-3 in triple overtime.
Utah could avoid going back to Fresno if it could learn to win at home. Fresno has won five straight, including the regular season, in the E Center.
"I wish I had an answer for that," said Christie. "I thought we were trying to force a lot of plays, guys trying to run-and-gun a little bit too much. I think that was the difference in the road trip and tonight, trying to force passes and force plays. We can't play like that."
Rycroft added that Fresno played well defensively. "They played tight tonight. They played tough. As a collective group, we didn't have much room down low. They put everything on the line. We battled, but it just wasn't good enough."
Rycroft scoffed at the home jinx thing. "No, we don't read into that at all, if we're home or away," he said.
"We're not pushing the panic button. We'll watch video, we'll learn from it, and Friday is a new day."Always the positive one, Rycroft added, "That just wakes us up a little bit, I guess you could say. We allowed them a little bit of life here, and so we've just got to make sure we're ready for Friday, and that's it."
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