The CBR Brave have taken another three points and remain in top spot on the AIHL ladder, after defeating the Melbourne Mustangs 4-2 at the O’Brien Icehouse on Saturday night.
In a tense and chippy affair, the Mustangs didn’t give an inch to the Brave on home ice, until the Brave found another gear in the third period to take the win in the first game of a double header weekend in Melbourne.
It was the Mustangs who would jump out to an early lead just over a minute in, when Vadim Virjassov forced a turnover and broke in on Climie’s net, making it 1-0 and putting CBR on the back foot.
It was Virjassov’s team-leading 12th goal of the season and, so far, the second-best season of his career.
The game also saw the debut of the Mustangs’ new netminder Kevin Nastiuk who, despite arriving only a few days prior to the game, was in form making several key stops early.
The Mustangs had a chance to make it 2-0 when Jesse Gabrielle was penalised for kneeing Michael MacMahon. However, Matt Climie was also on point between the Brave pipes and kept the Mustangs at bay to keep it at 1-0.
Natstiuk held firm for Melbourne until 57 seconds from the end of the period, when Connor Riley grabbed his first goal of the season and his first in Brave colours, to make it 1-1 heading into the first intermission.
Shots were 8-6 in favour of the Mustangs after the first period.
The second period remained as high octane as the first, with both teams trading chances and checks as the physicality went up a couple of notches.
Good chances to Sean Jones and Christian Isaackson were denied by Climie, while Gabrielle and Jordan Draper failed to beat Nastiuk at the other end.
Hayden Dawes then struck for the Brave after he walked into the offensive zone and picked up a loose puck, beating Nastiuk to the glove side and giving CBR the lead 2-1 with 11:49 to play.
The Brave had a further chance to extend their lead thanks to consecutive penalties to Matt Anderson and Parker Thomas, but the Mustangs’ penalty kill held firm. The Mustangs showed aggression short-handed which almost led to Virjassov getting his second on a 2-on-1 the other way, only to put his shot wide.
Casey Kubara and Anderson tangled in front of the Mustangs’ bench as time expired in the period earning coincidental minors, but the score remained 2-1 in favour of the Brave at the second intermission.
Starting the final frame 4-on-4 set the scene for the third period, and it was end-to-end hockey with several lengthy passages of play with no whistles.
However, Gabrielle silenced the Icehouse faithful with a goal just 36 seconds into the period giving the Brave a two-goal buffer. It was Gabrielle’s 17th goal in just his 7th game for the Brave.
Mitch Humphries answered 5 minutes later to get the crowd and the Mustangs back into the game with 14:26 to play and reduce the deficit to one goal.
The Mustangs got a lift from the atmosphere but were unable to break the goaltending of Climie, despite a couple of risky plays by the Brave netminder that nearly ended in calamity. The Brave held firm and an insurance goal by Casey Kubara sealed the three points for the Brave.
Climie stopped 20 of 22 in the win, while Nastiuk turned aside 28 of 30.
Brave head coach Rob Starke was satisfied with the Brave’s performance in the face of a feisty showing from the Mustangs.
“It was a very fast paced game and both teams played with a lot of intensity and it certainly was a very tight game right from the start,” Starke said.
“The Mustangs certainly had a point to prove after the last time we beat them in Canberra, but they’re one of the best teams in the league and they certainly showed that tonight.”
“Their goaltender was excellent despite only arriving recently and kept them in it.”Both teams will face each other again at the Icehouse on Sunday afternoon in the second game of a double header.