For a Rapid City team desperately in need of wins to keep its playoff hopes alive, a visit to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center ice by the Utah Grizzlies on Wednesday night held considerable promise. The Rush have had the Grizzlies’ number during the past year, having defeated the Grizzlies in six consecutive home ice appearances.
Make that seven in a row as the Rush, behind a 24-save, shutout performance by recently returned goalie Adam Carlson, squeaked out a well-played 1-0 win over the visiting Grizzlies.
Rapid City dominated puck possession in the opening seven minutes easily gaining the blueline and creating some excellent scoring chances while outshooting the Grizzlies 6-2. Utah goalie Joe Cannata gloved a Chris Leibinger shot from the high slot, and kicked away a wrister from Blake Heinrich from a similar spot on the ice to prevent the Rush from lighting the lamp.
“We were ready to go tonight right from the puck drop,” Rush coach Danny Tetrault said. “I thought we out-skated them, especially early on. We outworked them and that first period was huge in setting the tone for the game. Structurally we were really solid tonight against a very good team.”
Rapid City pressure led to a couple of Utah penalties though the Rush struggled to setup in the Utah zone and the third- ranked Utah penalty kill unit limited the Rush to a total of one shot on the two power-play chances.
On the other end of the ice, the Rapid City defensive continued its stellar play over the last 16 games (the Rush have limited foes to 2.75 goals per game during that span) holding Utah to a paltry three shots, two of which were nicely warded off by Carlson as they outshot the Grizzlies 9-3 in the scoreless first period.
“We have been playing great defensive for the last couple of months, but have had a hard time scoring goals. But we make up for that with a lot of heart,” Tetrault said. “These guys have worked hard all year long, and I’ve always been proud of their effort.”
Utah had the upper hand early in the second period, pinning the Rush in their own zone for the first minute and a half, twice forcing Rapid City to ice the puck to relieve pressure necessitating a couple of quality saves by Carlson.
Another Utah penalty stalled the Grizzlies’ momentum, though again Rapid City was unable to capitalize.
The whistle went the other way midway through the second period as Michael Turner (high sticking) and Sam Wilbur (slashing) drew stints in the penalty box, though the Rush penalty kill unit easily stymied Utah allowing but one shot over the four-minute span.
“Our penalty kill play was phenomenal,” Tetrault added. “Carlson was outstanding for us, and we blocked a lot of shots as the guys committed to sacrifice their body to get the victory and the shutout.”
Perhaps inspired by work of the short-handed units, the Rush — outshot 7-2 in the first 10 minutes of the second frame — had the better of play in the attack zone throughout much of the remaining period.
And solid Rush forechecking work paid off late in the period as Alec Baer tallied his sixth goal of the season, knocking in a loose puck following a scramble in front of the net with 1:11 remaining in the period to put Rapid City up 1-0. Justin Faryna and Michael Turner earned helpers on the goal.
“There was a good shot from the point and it deflected off the goalie’s shoulder and I kind of baseball whacked it in so it was a pretty greasy goal,” Baer said. “We’ve had a hard time scoring this year, and we may hot have the skill that some guys do, but we all have speed and good shots and we just need to keep putting the puck on the net in traffic and get the greasy ones.”
Rapid City faced a couple of tough tests early in the third period as Brandon Fehd and Matt Harrington penalties forced Carlson and mates to fight off another four minutes of Utah power play. Again, the Rush penalty kill aced the test as Carlson came up big with a couple of critical saves on close-in shots.
Utah pressure created a number of possessions late in the game during which the Rush struggled to clear the zone resulting in a number of Grade A scoring chances for Utah, a particularly scary situation for a Rush team that has seen a number of leads disappear in final moments.
The Rush goalie was up to the challenge both physically and mentally.
“I love that situation,” Carlson said. “You get in the zone and that’s every goalie’s dream right there. A one-nothing game and they come down and are pounding on you. I love these kinds of tests. I might not do well in a math test or social studies, but on these kinds of test I thrive. But I owe the win tonight to all of the guys out in front of me. They only allowed something like four shots on the power plays and made my job easy. If they do that, and I do my job, we can come away with those 1-0 victories.”
Though Utah pulled the goalie for an extra attacker with a minute remaining, the Rush prevented any last second rushes thereby preserving the much-needed win.
Rapid City (23-29-5-3) and Utah (32-19-4-3) continue this week’s three-game series on Friday (7 p.m.) at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.