WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The Utah Grizzlies and the Tulsa Oilers started their best-of-seven playoff series with both teams coming away with a win each in the first two games. The Grizzlies used their special teams to win the first game scoring three power-play goals and one shorthanded goal. In game two, the Oilers used their very dangerous odd-man rush to tie the series up at one game apiece.
The main story from the opening game of the series was special teams. The Utah power-play went 3-for-7, while Tulsa was scoreless in seven power-play chances.
Dylan Fitze opened the scoring up at the 3:07 mark of the opening period as there was a mad scramble around the net, giving the Grizzlies an early lead. Tulsa would respond when John Furgele fired a shot from the blue line and Alex Gilmour redirected it past Trent Miner and into the net. The Grizzlies refused to go into the first intermission tied at one. Benjamin Tardif got the puck near center ice and on a shorthanded breakaway, made no mistake zipping it past Daniel Mannella for a 2-1 lead.
Tulsa got their first lead of the night as Joe Garreffa and Jackson Leef would score two goals in a span of 4:21 in the second period. The ECHL’s Defenseman of the Year, Charle-Edouard D’Astous, scored his first goal of the playoffs with 5:41 left in the second to tie the game at 3-3.
Utah would pull away in the third period, with goals from Zach Tsekos and a pair from Trey Bradley, to take game one, 6-3.
Looking to even up the series before returning to Tulsa for three games next week, the Oilers capitalized on several odd-man rushes to take the game two victory.
Alex Pommerville opened the scoring just past the halfway mark of the opening frame, scoring his first playoff goal on a breakaway, and beating Miner to make it 1-0. D’Astous would respond quickly, scoring two goals in a quick span of 1:24, to give Utah a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes.
The Grizzlies are usually one of the league’s best teams in the middle frame; however, Tulsa had other plans in this one.
Adam Pleskach scored his first goal of the playoffs, potting the rebound from a Joe Garreffa shot from the left circle, to tie the game at two. The Oilers would seize the lead for the first time in this series at the 8:03 mark of the middle frame when Pommerville found Jack Doremus got into the slot and fired a shot that beat Minor. However, that lead would only last just all of 82 seconds when Tarun Fizer scored his first career playoff goal, tying the game 3-3.
From there, the Oilers pulled away for good when Max Golod had a highlight-reel goal. He cut in front of Miner, spun between the circles, and took a shot from the right side to make it 4-3 Tulsa. Gilmour would extend the Oilers’ lead to 5-3 just past the halfway mark in the third, getting a nice pass from Garreffa.
Utah had some chances late, but Mannella was strong, stopping all nine Grizzlies’ chances in the final period.
What Went Right:
There is no arguing here, as the special team units were on fire for Utah, scoring five power-play goals and a shorthanded goal. D’Astous has easily been the best player for Utah in the opening games, with five points (3G, 2A) in the first two games.
For Tulsa, after losing Friday’s game, their defense came out stronger and was able to help Mannella get the series tied up. Gilmour and Garreffa have been the offensive leaders for the Oilers so far, combining for seven points.
What Went Wrong:
The Oilers could easily be heading to Tulsa up 2-0 in the series if their power-play unit got going. In the first two games, they went 1-for-11; including 0-for-7 on Friday and 1-for-4 on Saturday.
For the Grizzlies, they have struggled to contain Tulsa’s transition game.
As I said in the series preview, it will be the better defense and goaltending that wins the games, and that was proven in the first two.
The series shifts to Tulsa for the next three games starting Tuesday night. Faceoffs for games 3, 4, and 5 (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) are set for 7:05 pm CDT.
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