This past weekend was one of the most anticipated series of the year for the Ogden Mustangs as they played host to the rival Utah Outliers for the regular-season finale and what is now the preview of the Northwest Division Finals.
The energy in the building during both games was unlike any other contest this season. Momentum seemingly swaying on every massive hit, daring save, breathtaking odd-man rush and highlight-reel goal. This series lived up to the hype and added another storied chapter in the rivalry that is Mustangs vs. Outliers hockey.
On Friday night, both the Mustangs and Outliers came into the two-game series with 17-game win streaks and a long-standing rivalry that dates back nine years. The opening contest was the eighth meeting of the season for both clubs with the Mustangs holding the head-to-head advantage with a record of 4-2-1-0. In the most recent matchup, the Mustangs dropped their first game at home and during the 2020 calendar year. Amid a three-game losing streak that created frustration and a bit of uncomfortability, this Mustangs team hit the reset button and put the rest of the league back on notice. For most teams, a three-game losing streak is not so detrimental; however, for the Mustangs, it is simply not who we are.
Following a few cautious opening minutes, the Mustangs got on the board after the cycle and keep-in from the point gave them a great look in close. Shane Gilbert was able to slam home a rebound after Emil Svartbro found Patrick Tuma all alone who put a quick shot on net where Gilbert was all alone waiting to pounce on the rebound.
After exchanging minor penalties near the end of the 1st and beginning of the 2nd periods, Tuma and Oliver Wieringa committed back-to-back minor infractions that gave the Outliers an extended 5-on-3 powerplay for 1:09 midway through the 2nd period. The penalty-kill units for Ogden were terrific and allowed just a single shot on goal for the duration of both penalties.
Physicality and heavy-hitting is the expectation in this matchup and Christian Phinney delivered one of the best open-ice hits in recent memory. His hip check late in the 2nd period sent his man end-over-end and the crowd roared in approval. Ogden killed a Johan Zöllner penalty later in the 2nd, the Mustangs quickly regained momentum and found themselves on a 5-on-3 powerplay for 1:06 with 2:10 left in the period. They were able to generate several good chances, but the Outliers goaltender was able to keep the puck out of the net.
As the period was winding down, the Outliers got a man out of the box and eventually got a breakaway. Harry Gulliver did everything he could to take away the opportunity, but the official signaled for a penalty shot with 9.8 seconds remaining in the period. Goaltender Travis Allen forced the opponent's shot low after faking the poke-check and made the pad save to send the Mustangs into the intermission clinging to a 1-0 lead.
The crowd went wild following the Allen save. The energy in the building was so incredible that Allen flipped the puck down all of the way down the ice out of pure excitement after making the save.
In the 3rd period, it was all business for Allen and the Mustangs. He was spectacular all night in his 18th victory of the season, registering 22 saves and his 4th shutout overall and second against the Outliers this season. He was up to the task when his team needed him most and Ogden now had their 18th consecutive victory.
Saturday evening brought a different beast as the Mustangs were looking to close the regular season with a signature victory but not without more drama to this storied rivalry.
Gilbert again kicked off the scoring 8:02 into the 1st period with a one-time blast from the top of the slot. Stanislav Dosek has been a tremendous addition to this Mustangs team since joining and his impressive skating and vision was instrumental in the Gilbert goal.
Despite beginning the period being outshot by the Outliers 6-5, the Mustangs ended the 1st period by doubling up the visitor's 20-10. Lukas Vacin also doubled up the lead with a big-time shot from the blue line during a Mustangs power play with 4:18 left in the period.
The 2nd period offered more back-and-forth action with both sides generating good scoring chances before a skirmish in front of the Outliers goal sent Bryson Bartell and an Outliers skater to the penalty box for roughing minors. Thirty-seven seconds later, the Outliers finally broke the seal with a strange goal that saw the puck cross the goal-line simultaneously as the net came off its moorings.
The Mustangs never wavered and followed with a highlight-reel move around two defenders by David Sudbrink that narrowly missed the beating the goaltender and catching the left post. Just seconds after the Sudbrink effort, Tuma rang a shot off of the right post.
Wieringa would help his team regain the two-goal lead with a good interception, stickhandle and wrist shot short-side with 10:37 left in the 2nd period. The Outliers would claw their way back into the game with back-to-back to goals that originated from the blue line and beat Allen, who applied heavy traffic in front of him. The crowd was stunned after the tying goal with 3:58 left in the 2nd.
Just over two minutes later, Bartell was able to pick up an advantageous bounce on a clearing attempt from Christoffer Juvas, skate in all alone on a breakaway, beat goaltender and send the packed out crowd at the Ice Sheet into a frenzy.
Coming back for the 3rd and final period of the regular season, this special group of players wanted to put an exclamation point on their work heading into playoffs. Ogden did precisely that by closing out the final period with an outstanding effort and signature moments coming from the forwards, defensemen and netminder. Dosek would seal the game with an empty-net shorthanded goal with nine seconds remaining.
The Mustangs 5-3 victory was 7th victory of the season against the Outliers and their 46th overall on the season. With a record of 46-3-1-1, this is the second-best record in franchise history (47-2-0-2 in 2018-19) and the best in the WSHL this season.
Northwest Division Finals
#1 Ogden Mustangs Vs. #2 Utah Outliers
Game 1: Saturday, March 14th | 7:30 PM
Game 2: Friday, March 20th | 7:30 PM
Game 3: Saturday, March 21st | 7:30 PM
The Ice Sheet | Ogden, UT
Tickets are available at tickets.ogdenmustangs.com
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