TULSA, Okla. – The Tulsa Oilers started well and held a 3-0 lead against the Utah Grizzlies on Saturday night, but five unanswered goals by the guests doomed the home side for a second straight night.
Tulsa had scored the opening goal on Friday before yielding five straight in a 5-1 loss to the Kansas City Mavericks. The Oilers looked to be bouncing back on Saturday when they took a 3-0 lead with half of a major power play remaining to add to the advantage. Momentum is a fickle thing, however, especially against a team as talented as Utah.
With a chance to slam the door, the Oilers instead left it cracked and the Grizzlies forced their way through. A stunning short-handed goal gave Utah life. Then, four minutes later, two goals in 22 seconds suddenly pulled the visitors back even. The Grizzlies scored the eventual game-winner before the end of the period and added an insurance marker in the third to prevail by a final tally of 5-3.
Tulsa opened the scoring with 8:35 left in the opening frame, capitalizing after forcing a Utah turnover with a strong forecheck. Ian McNulty sent a shot from the point that Adam Pleskach deflected wide. The Grizzlies collected the puck in the corner, but the Oilers immediately pressured the visitors as they tried to exit. A careless pass across the top of the slot was intercepted by McNulty. He had tons of time and space as he walked in and wired a shot that beat Utah goalie Martin Ouellette low to the glove side before ringing off the far pipe and in to make it 1-0 for Tulsa.
The Oilers held a 12-5 edge in shots with 5:52 left in the first, but the Grizzlies closed the frame with the final nine shots on goal to take a 14-12 lead in shots to intermission. Utah looked to have tied the game late in the frame when a Ty Lewis shot slipped through the legs of starting Tulsa goaltender Devin Williams, but Jacob Benson swooped in and swept the puck off the line to send Tulsa to the locker room with a lead.
The second period was where this game was decided, as the two teams combined for six goals in a wild and crazy frame that saw the drama start right at the drop of the puck. Just four seconds in, Mike McKee and Garrett Klotz dropped the gloves for a lengthy tilt that saw each combatant land several legal blows.
However, the head butt thrown by Klotz was anything but. The controversial enforcer, who always seems to be in trouble with the league, rightly received a five-minute major and a game misconduct and — stop me if you’ve heard this before — Klotz seems almost certain to be headed to the suspended list. It was a great job by McKee to stand up for his team and earn the Oilers a five-minute power play by allowing Klotz to be Klotz while staying within the bounds of sanity himself.
Tulsa struck twice with the two-man advantage, the first of which came 1:45 into the frame off the stick of Robby Jackson. Jackson took a feed along the near boards from Miles Liberati, then cut towards the slot following the curve of the top of the circle before sending the puck towards Pleskach, who was open down low. Ouellette was not alone in thinking the puck was headed for Pleskach, so when it went under the stick of Tulsa’s captain at the last moment, he was understandably fooled and had to watch it slide under his leg to make it 2-0 for the home side. The goal was the team-leading 12th of the year for Jackson, breaking a three-way tie with Pleskach and Danny Moynihan.
The Oilers then made it 3-0 just 57 seconds later, as Benson got on the scoresheet for the first time in his ECHL career. The play started when Jake Clifford sent a pass to J.J. Piccinich, who cut in from the far boards and wired a shot off the shoulder of Ouellette. The puck fluttered in the air and Benson showed off his baseball skills by smacking the puck out of the air and into the net to give his team a three-goal cushion with 17:18 left in the second and 2:22 still left for the Oilers on the major penalty power play.
That is where things began to go south for the Oilers, however. Instead of adding to the advantage, they gave one back before the end of the power play. The ever-dangerous Utah penalty kill struck after an attempted breakout pass from Liberati was cut off along the near boards and directed towards Griffen Molino. Molino split two Oilers at the line, then beat Liberati one-on-one before subtly slipping the disc through the five-hole of Williams to put Utah on the board and cut the Tulsa lead to 3-1 with 15:55 to play in the middle stanza.
Momentum then completely shifted to the Grizzlies just over four minutes later, as they scored twice in just 22 seconds to suddenly equalize. The first goal came after Utah won an offensive zone draw, enabling J.C. Brassard to fire a shot from the point that was deflected home by Jack Jenkins to make it a 3-2 game with 11:43 to go in the second. The tying goal then came as Yuri Terao walked to the slot and sent a wrister that Williams jumped to stop, only for him to land awkwardly and have the puck roll off of him and in to even the score. Williams looked shaken up on the play, and while he stayed in for the remaining 11:21 of period two, he gave way to Olle Eriksson Ek for the final frame.
The eventual game-winner was a beauty no matter which team you support, as Terao showed off spectacular speed and a pinpoint shot for his second of the night. He took a pass from Jenkins at the far point, then started down the far boards before slamming on the brakes and cutting back. He then quickly circled the zone with the speed of an Olympic speed skater, firing a laser from the bottom of the near circle that went over the shoulder of Williams and under the crossbar with 5:20 left in the second period. The puck hit the inner pipe and bounced out so quickly that it was initially waved off. However, after a review, the correct call was made and Utah had a 4-3 edge it would not relinquish.
Lost in the shuffle of the offensive extravaganza in the frame was the play of Ouellette between the pipes for the Grizzlies. He had just 11 saves on 14 shots after allowing goals on each of Tulsa’s first two shots of the frame, but then put up the force field and was perfect for the remainder of the night. Tulsa fired a total of 24 shots in the second, and Ouellette stopped the last 22 of them. He stopped the final 31 shots he faced to finish with 42 saves on 45 shots for the night and allow his side to complete the comeback and leave town with two points in the standings.
Utah defended well in the third to frustrate Tulsa and keep the home side from regaining any momentum. The Oilers best chance of the frame was a power play midway through, but the Grizzlies killed it and went a step further, finalizing the story for this night. Tulsa got caught pressing and Lewis was left alone as he stepped out of the box to accept a breakaway pass that sent him in with time and space to challenge Eriksson Ek. Lewis beat the Anaheim Ducks prospect low to the stick side to provide the final score line of 5-3 in favor of Utah.
Tulsa has now dropped three straight decisions to fall to 15-21-2-1 on the season. There is no time to fret about the turn of events on Saturday, though, as the Oilers get right back to action on Sunday afternoon on the York Plumbing Ice inside the BOK Center. The opponent is a familiar one, as Tulsa welcomes their turnpike rivals the Wichita Thunder in for a 4:05 p.m. CT showdown. This will be the ninth meeting between the two this season, with the season series currently locked at four games apiece. Tulsa is 2-1-0-0 at home against Wichita this season, with all three meetings in Green Country coming during a three-game weekend on December 13-15.
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