WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The Utah Grizzlies and Rapid City Rush faced off in the first game of the Kelly Cup Mountain Division Finals on Friday night. In a best-of-seven series, it’s best to take early momentum, both in the game and the series. Utah did just that, using an early start to get all the energy, holding onto that for most of the game. When all was said and done, the Grizzlies would come out on top with a score of 5-1.
Kyle Betts scored his third goal of the playoffs to get the scoring started early for the Grizzlies. Just 19 seconds in, he received a centering pass from Nick Henry to give Utah an early lead that they would hold onto the rest of the game. Then, Nate Clurman got his first of the playoffs when he got a shot from the slot sneaking it past Rush goaltender Lukas Parik to give Utah a 2-0 lead midway through the first.
Rapid City’s had an excellent start to the game, coming out physically. However, Utah defenseman Austin Crossley responded in kind, laying hits on the Rush all over the ice. Along with the physical hits, the Grizzlies were able to make some damage on the shot count, outshooting the Rush 11-9 in the opening frame. That’s a feat they couldn’t accomplish against Tulsa.
As both teams tried to find a way to get the puck into the net in the middle frame, it was Tarun Fizer who ultimately got lucky. Fizer found the loose puck near the cage and put it off the back of Parik, who looked stunned after that goal. However, that three-goal lead didn’t last very long as only 81 seconds after, it was Logan Nelson putting the Rush on the board after he shot the puck from the circle through traffic and past Trent Miner.
As the final five minutes of the second wound down, Charle-Edouard D’Astous took a shot from the right circle and thought he put it past Parik. However, the two referees said no goal. After video review, the officials confirmed the call of no goal, keeping it 3-1 in Utah’s favor. It didn’t take D’Astous long to get that one back as on the very next shift, he had a one-time blast from the circle making it 4-1, adding a little extra in his goal celebration, pointing to the goal.
Photo Credit: Tim Broussard/Utah Grizzlies. D’Astous celebrates his league-leading 10th of the playoffs by pointing to the goal late in the second.
It was a pretty steady third period as Dylan Fitze scored the only goal of the frame as he fired home a rebound right in front of Parik on the power play with 7:54 to play in the frame making it 5-1. After that, Utah easily put the game away.
What Went Right and Wrong
For Utah, almost everything went right, while for the Rush, nothing went their way except having seven power-play chances in the game. Utah’s fast start was a key to their win. In addition, Utah’s transition defense played much better than against Tulsa. Special teams, once again, were a key to the game as the Rush went 0-for-7 on the power play while Utah was 1-for-3. Coming into the series, the Rush were an excellent team in the third period, outscoring their first-round opponent, the Allen Americans, 11-3 in the third. Although, the Rush couldn’t pick that up in the first game against Utah.
Three Stars of the Game
Like in the first round, the usual suspects such as Betts, D’Astous, and Fizer were the stars. Miner was outstanding in goal for Utah, stopping all but one of the 34 shots he faced, while Parik stopped 31 of 36.
The Grizzlies will host game two on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Mountain Time. After that, the two teams will head to Rapid City, S.D., for games three, four, and, if necessary, five on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
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