WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The opening two games of the Western Conference Final between the Toledo Walleye and Utah Grizzlies has had its share of storylines, physicality, and goals. As the series shifted west Tuesday night, the veteran-laden Walleye worked quickly to take the crowd of 5,315 out of the contest and pounced on goaltender Peyton Jones, using a three-goal second period to take game three 5-4.
Utah’s star netminder for these playoffs, Trent Miner, was on a recall assignment with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles between games two and three and only returned to Maverik Center shortly before pregame warmup. He would enter the contest in the mid-stages of the second period and provide the stability in net the Grizzlies needed to start their comeback.
The Walleye got to work on Jones early in the first, when Brandon Hawkins netted his 11th goal of the playoffs just 31 seconds into the contest to give the fish a 1-0 lead. Just over four minutes later, the oddly quiet (offensively speaking) Mitchell Heard scored his first goal of the playoffs to extend the Walleye lead to 2-0.
After a rough first period, the intermission was the best thing that could have happened for the Grizzlies. It allowed them to refocus and come back to the game plan of chipping pucks in deep and using their physicality to wear down the older Walleye. They were able to generate some momentum off that when Connor McDonald was awarded a penalty shot 41 seconds into the period. Even though it wasn’t successful, it was a sign that Utah was clearly engaged in the contest. Minutes later, they would cut the lead in half when their playoff MVP, Charle-Edouard D’Astous continued to pad his ECHL record for goals in a playoff with his 19th, making it a 2-1 affair.
Any momentum the Grizzlies generated early in the middle frame went out the window, as the Walleye splurged for three goals in a six-minute span. Lamplighters from Patrick Curry, TJ Hensick, and Heard’s second of the night made it a 5-1 margin. Jones was yanked after the Hensick goal, while Miner allowed Heard’s second within two minutes of entering the contest.
Utah would begin their comeback in the late stages of the second period, with Zach Tsekos scoring his second goal of the playoffs with about five minutes left in the frame to bring the Walleye lead back to three.
In the third period, you could make the case that the altitude was beginning to affect the Walleye, who had played a clean game (on the penalty sheet) up to that point. Each of the infractions they were whistled for in the frame were stick violations, and Utah made them pay, connecting on one of those power-play chances in the period. The final goal of the evening came just past the midway point of the third, when Tyler Penner brought the Grizzlies within one. Utah would continue to mount the pressure in the final ten minutes, but would get no closer.
With the win, the Walleye improved to 4-1-1 on the road in the playoffs. On the other side, the Grizzlies suffered their third loss on home ice in these playoffs, and are now 5-3-0 within the confines of Maverik Center.
Grizzlies forward Benjamin Tardif registered an assist in the game, which moves him to within four helpers of tying Allen head coach Chad Costello for most assists in a playoff season (29 in 2016).
Game four of the Western Conference Finals will be in West Valley City on Friday evening. Faceoff is set for 9:10 pm ET/7:10 pm MT.
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