With 13 goals, 58 shots, five power play tallies, and four goaltenders, Steelheads fans saw a little bit of everything at CenturyLink Arena on December 16th when the Steelheads hosted the Utah Grizzlies. After a discouraging start to the night, fans were also treated to one of the more sizeable regular-season comebacks in Steelheads history.
The Steelheads were coming off back-to-back wins on the road in Tulsa and Allen, the latter in overtime, and wanted to carry that momentum back to Boise for a four-game home stand. That home stand included two games against the Grizzlies, a team the Steelheads couldn’t afford to lose more ground to in the division already trailing by eight points. That gap looked as though it would grow early in the first period, as the first-place Grizzlies got out to a dominant start.
Two of the Grizzlies’ most potent offensive performers, Alex Krushelnyski and Matt Berry, had already done decent damage against Idaho in the season’s first three matchups, with Krushelnyski recording a pair of assists and Berry logging three goals. Both were impact players in the first period of this one as well to help Utah jump to a 4-0 lead in the game’s first 15:20.
Six and a half minutes into the game, Krushelnyski struck first off a face-off in his own zone, poking a puck past Corbin Baldwin at the point and streaking in on a 2-on-1 to rifle a wrister past Maxime Lagace. Less than two minutes later, Berry added on with a tap-in of a Barry Almeida feed to make it 2-0. Jon Puskar’s long wrist shot through Lagace’s legs a minute and a half later made it 3-0 and ended Lagace’s night, with Philippe Desrosiers climbing over the boards to take over. The tough luck continued for Idaho, as Krushelnyski got his second goal of the game after banking a centering pass off a Steelhead skate and behind Desrosiers.
If a team wants any chance at a comeback after a dismal start, they need some sort of a response before heading to the first intermission. Rob Linsmayer gave Idaho that response with a goal 45 seconds after Krushelnyski’s, a deflection of an Andrew Panzarella point shot that sent the teams to the room 4-1.
“I didn’t go in screaming and yelling, but I said we needed to answer the bell,” said Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham following the game. “We needed a better effort (after the first period) and guys collectively playing better. Give credit to the guys in the room that they stepped up, and I was proud of them.”
If the end of the first was important, an aggressive start to the second was just as crucial. The Steelheads’ power play would lead the way.
Carson McMillan beat Utah’s Taran Kozun with a laser from the left circle for a power play goal just over two minutes into the middle frame. Two minutes later, Andrew Carroll beat Kozun as well, poking home a rebound of a Kyle Jean wrister after a solid forecheck steal by Jean set up the play. By the 7:09 mark of the second, Jefferson Dahl and Linsmayer would tack on power play goals to give the Steelheads a 5-4 lead and chase Kozun from the game.
The Steelheads four power plays goals were their most in a game that season, not having scored more than one in any of the season’s first 27 games.
Former Steelhead Chris Rawlings came in to man the net for Utah, and he wouldn’t fare much better. He would make 18 saves over the game’s final 32 minutes, but gave up three more Steelheads goals in the final period. Andre Morrissette found a turn-over right between the circles for an easy tally and Jean would find the back of the net twice in the final ten minutes for his first multi-goal game as a Steelhead, as the Steelheads finished the game on an 8-1 run.
The four-point night for Jean extended his points streak to three games. That streak would reach eight games for 17 points before all was said and done.
“I’m feeling really good,” said Jean following the game. “It took me longer than I wanted to transition back to the North American game but now I feel great and hopefully we can continue this.”
You don’t know what can happen on any given night, and the Steelheads’ eight goals on this night were their most in a regular-season game since January 23, 2015 in Alaska and most at CenturyLink Arena since November 1, 2014 against Stockton. It was the first time the Steelheads had recovered from at least a three-goal deficit to win since March 8, 2014.