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September 1, 2014

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HOCKEY:

Grizzlies ground Wranglers, end point streak

Prior to Sunday's matinee against the Utah Grizzlies, the Las Vegas Wranglers had ascended to the top of the Pacific Division with a nine-game point streak.

But the high-flying Wranglers came crashing down Sunday as the Grizzlies grounded Las Vegas 4-1 in front of 4,784 fans at the Orleans Arena.

"We've played good hockey for the last 10 games, but every now and then you serve up a big egg like that and that's what we did here," said Wranglers coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan.

The Wranglers -– skating in their seventh game in 10 days –- showed plenty of signs of exhaustion as the Grizzlies outshot them 39-23 and capitalized on two of four power play chances.

After a scoreless first period, Utah forward Tom Kotsopoulos scored the first goal of the game during a four-on-three power play at 11:24 in the second period.

Wranglers forward Kelly Czuy answered back less than five minutes later when he blasted a shot from the right face-off circle to tie the game 1-1.

Although Las Vegas (26-19-5) and Utah (18-16-14) headed into the second intermission tied, the Grizzlies mauled Wranglers goalie Matt Keetley with 20 shots, while Las Vegas tallied just six in that period.

"By the middle of the game I thought that our defense went and took the night off," Gulutzan said. "Our forwards tried hard and our (defensemen) were terrible. We were pinching at the wrong time and taking chances. We were trying to force the game and you can't force a game like this. You start forcing a game like this and it burns you."

Utah defenseman Andy Sertich ignited that searing fire in the third period with back-to-back goals to put the Grizzlies on top 3-1 with 7:40 remaining in the game.

In a move of total desperation, Gulutzan pulled Keetley with three minutes left in the contest to try to ignite Las Vegas' offense. The strategy failed as Utah forward Tom May added an empty-netter with 1:59 remaining to seal the 4-1 victory.

"The streaks have to end eventually and unfortunately it happened today," said Wranglers captain Shawn Limpright. "We've just got to start a new one tomorrow."

Stars of the game: 1. Andy Sertich (2 goals, 1 assist); 2. Matt Keetley (35 saves); 3. Tom May (1 goal, 2 assists)

Injury update: Gulutzan said forward Peter Ferraro's status is "day-to-day" while recovering from a neck sprain he suffered against the Phoenix Roadrunners on Feb. 10. He is expected to return within one week.

Streaking forward Mick Lawrence, who notched 12 points in his last seven games, did not dress Sunday due to an unidentified neck injury. Gulutzan said he thought it was a muscular injury and that Lawrence could play Monday.

Heavy hitter: Although the Grizzlies were in full control of the contest late in the third period, Chris Neiszner brought the Orleans Arena crowd to its feet when he leveled Utah forward Evan Kotsopoulos in front of the penalty boxes.

Kotsopoulos did not take kindly to the hit and repeatedly tapped Neiszner in the back of the leg signaling he wanted to drop the gloves but Neiszner was apparently not in a fighting mood. It was Valentine's Day weekend after all.

Next up: The Wranglers host the Phoenix Roadrunners (21-23-3) at the Orleans Arena at 2:05 p.m. Monday. The contest is the Wranglers' final home game in the month of February. Las Vegas is 15-9-2 at the Orleans Arena this season.

Final word: "Everyone needs to get a good night's sleep, get a good meal in them and come in fresh and focused tomorrow," Limpright said.

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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