Ben Breault scored a last-minute game winning goal in his 100th AIHL game and the Perth Thunder took a 4-3 victory over the Melbourne Mustangs, in a tense affair at O’Brien Icehouse on Sunday afternoon.
The win avenged a 6-3 lost the previous evening and created a tighter race for third and fourth spot on the AIHL ladder.
The Mustangs were looking to sweep the weekend and climb higher on the standings after snapping a 5-game losing streak the previous evening.
Parker Thomas continued his good run of form on the weekend, when he struck first for the home side on a wicked slap shot, beating Viksten and making it 1-0 midway through the first.
Thomas would strike again just two minutes later, when he walked into a crowded high slot and beat Viksten on the blocker side to make it 2-0 Mustangs with 6:08 remaining in the first. It was Thomas’ fourth goal on the weekend.
Thomas nearly had number three for the game moments later, but this time he could not beat Viksten. Perth had a couple of chances early to both Breault and Keven Veilleux but they were both unable to beat Kevin Nastiuk between the Mustangs’ pipes.
It finished 2-0 at the end of the first period, with the Mustangs leading the shot count 6-5.
The Thunder responded less than three minutes into the second, when Louick Marcotte grabbed a power play goal, after Sean Jones went off for hooking. Marcotte shot through the screen and beat Nastiuk to the blocker side, to cut the deficit to one. It was Marcotte’s 7th goal of the AIHL season.
Marcotte then went from hero to villain, after he was sent to the box for goaltender interference. However, the Thunder penalty kill held firm despite quality chances to Jordan Owens and Christian Isackson.
The Mustangs had two more chances on the power play after penalties to both Jamie Woodman and Lyndon Lodge later in the period, but the Thunder penalty kill came up big again and frustrated the Mustangs’ offence to keep the score at 2-1.
Marcotte’s goal was the only one of the period and it finished 2-1 heading into the final period.
Despite the Marcotte goal, the Thunder’s predicament got worse at the start of the third.
Veilleux was given a misconduct for putting the puck in the net after the whistle and then a match penalty for abuse of official, which resulted in a 5-minute power play for the Mustangs.
However, a huge penalty kill from the Thunder ensued which held the Mustangs to only a handful of chances, and it proved to be the turning point for the WA side.
Kieren Webster continued his stellar season with his 13th goal of the year to pull Perth level with 7:32 to go.
A tense 5 minutes of end-to-end hockey followed, until a diving Rob Haselhurst connected off of a Marcotte feed, to give the Thunder the lead for the first time, 3-2 with just 2:36 left to play.
That was until Andrew Cox was given the gate for tripping less than a minute later. The Mustangs pulled Nastiuk for a 6-on-4 and it paid dividends instantly, with Isackson tying the game 3-3 with a power play goal with just 1:25 to go.
Overtime was a certainty until with just 36 seconds remaining on the clock. That was until a beautiful deke and pass from Woodman set-up Breault, who was left unattended at the back post, to put it past Nastiuk and take the game and the three points for the Thunder for a 4-3 victory.
Thunder coach Dave Ruck was pleased with a character win from his players.
“It was great to see we never gave up. Again, we had a lot of chances we missed and it was good to see we lifted that energy late in the game to get to the net and get goals as a result,” Ruck said.
“The 5-minute major we killed off was a major turning point and we had a lot of emotion on the bench once we got through that. We used that emotion to our advantage and channelled it instead of letting it distract us which was great.”
The Thunder move to 27 points in fourth spot on the ladder, while the Mustangs remain six points behind them on 21 points in fifth spot.
The Thunder return home to face the Sydney Ice Dogs in a double header at Perth Ice Arena, while the Mustangs will face the Melbourne Ice on Friday night and the Sydney Bears on Sunday afternoon.