WEST VALLEY CITY The Utah Grizzlies' longest playoff run of their three years in the ECHL is now one game from being finished.
They play what is an elimination game for them tonight in the E Center at 7 against the Las Vegas Wranglers, a team to whom they have lost 13 straight times, including Thursday night's 3-2 overtime loss before 2,918 in the E Center, including club owners David Elmore and Donna Tuttle, to leave Utah down 3-0 in games in the best-of-seven Northern Conference Finals game.
Utah is now 0-8 in one-goal games this season against Vegas and 0-5 this season in overtime games against the Wranglers.
Utah coach Jason Christie was frustrated at the way the things unfolded from the 5:46 minute in the overtime when Grizzly forward Keith Johnson, going for the puck, ran into a Wrangler player and was called for a fairly unusual-in-an-overtime-situation interference penalty that turned out to be the death penalty in this game for Utah.
"They missed two high sticks," Christie charged about referee Jason Rollins. "We got two guys cut, but yet he calls a guy who's going for the puck interference. To each his own, but I didn't think it was."
After the game, Christie asked to speak to a league representative.
"You set a standard, you've got to keep that standard," said Christie.
"You're the one who makes that standard, you've got to make sure you apply it to both sides."
It was Las Vegas questioning the officiating Tuesday night when Utah scored with a second left to force overtime the Wranglers thought the horn had sounded before the goalbut they won the game anyway 1:36 into the overtime.
This time it took the regular-season Northern Conference-champion Wranglers until 5:11 of the overtime to put in the third and decisive goal, which came after a long, high shot bounced off the glass behind Utah goalie Mike Mole's goal and came out to the stick side of his net, where it was poked in by winger Bruce Mulherin as a Utah player was shoved into the net, which also angered Christie.
"Well, they pushed the guy right into Molesy. That's crease violation. If you're going to set a standard, you've got to keep that standard. That's definitely interference," he said.
The game was tied 1-1 for nearly 10 minutes before Wrangler Tyler Mosienko scored on a rebound at 14:25 of the second period to match the score by Utah's Tyler Haskins at 9:15 of the first.
Things stayed that way, 2-1, until late in the third period when similarly to Tuesday's game at Las Vegas Utah scored in the final minute of regulation, Andrew MacDonald wristing a shot through traffic from high in the slot with :59 left to invite overtime.
"Our guys came back, battled in the third period," said Christie, "and you know, we had some opportunities in the third, and obviously it was a good goal by Mac to put it into overtime."But the Mulherin goal brought Vegas dreams of a sweep tonight and brought out the cliches for Utah. "Tomorrow is do-or-die," said Christie and what else could he say? "Our backs are against the wall. We've got to play like that. We have to come out (tonight), and obviously, it's a big game for us."
GRIZZ BIZZ: Back in the old IHL of 1996, the Grizzlies defeated the Las Vegas Thunder in six games and went on to beat Orlando's Solar Bears for the Turner Cup, the only championship the Grizzlies have won while in Utah ... The Grizzlies again played without two injured veterans, defenseman Ian Forbes and captain Travis Rycroft.
ECHL National Conference Finals
Game 1: Las Vegas 5, Utah 2
Game 2: Las Vegas 4, Utah 3 OT
Game 3: Las Vegas 3, Utah 2 OT
Game 4: at Utah - Friday, 7 p.m.
Game 5: Utah - Sunday, May 18, 4 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 6: Las Vegas - Tuesday, May 20, 8 p.m. (if necessary)
All times Mountain