Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - Submitted by Stephen White
Pitkanen with his first AIHL shutout. Photo: Phil Taylor.
Petri Pitkanen posted his first AIHL shutout and the Melbourne Mustangs took a 3-0 victory over the Sydney Bears on Sunday night at the O’Brien Group Arena, keeping their fading Goodall Cup Finals hopes alive.
The Bears were unable to repeat their previous Melbourne road trip success where they walked away with 5 points, instead dropping all 6 to slip behind the top 4 at the midway point of the AIHL season.
An opening flurry from the Mustangs had the Bears on the back foot early but Anthony Kimlin held firm. It was a fast, entertaining and physical first period which saw some big hits from both teams. Graham Strukoff levelled Jamie Bourke coming across the slot, Andrew Erzen put Jeremey Vasquez into the stanchion and then Troy Robertson deposited Etienne Du Toit into the Mustangs’ bench just before the end of the intermission.
It was also a penalty-filled opening period with the Bears spending most of it short-handed. Despite 4 power plays to the Mustangs, the Bears PK stood firm with Kimlin making several superb saves and Brian Funes and Ryan Annesley blocking many Mustangs shots.
Brendan McDowell Celebrates his goal in the third period. Photo: Phil Taylor.
The shot count finished 11-7 in favour of the Mustangs but the score line remained 0-0.
It would take until 8:40 of the 2nd period for either team to break the deadlock and it would be the Mustangs who did so.
Jamie Bourke took a pass from Nikita Kolesnikovs at the blue line, skated across the offensive zone and then shot across Kimlin, beating him glove side and making it 1-0. It was Bourke’s 2nd goal of the season.
Brendan McDowell would then double the Mustangs’ one goal lead 6 minutes into the final period, after a set-up from Brad Apps. It was McDowell’s 7th goal of the season and his 2nd for weekend after tallying against the Melbourne Ice on Friday night.
Kimlin made several highlight reel saves to keep the Bears in it. Pitkanen was the less busy of the two goaltenders, but also made multiple fine saves to protect the Mustangs’ lead. Ryan Lough had two chances late in the period to get the Bears back into the game but was denied each time by Pitkanen.
Ron Kuprowsky pulled Kimlin for the extra skater with two minutes remaining but the Bears were unable to muster anything on Pitkanen. Sean Jones sealed the win, adding an empty net goal and his 7th of the season with 64 seconds left in the game and the Mustangs got a critical three points.
All of the Mustangs goals came at even strength despite having 13 attempts on the power play, including two 5-on-3’s. Pitkanen stopped all 24 shots he faced in the win, while Kimlin went 35 from 37.
Bears couldn't stop Mustangs attack. Photo: Phil Taylor.
The Bears remain in 5th spot on 26 points although they have two games in hand over the 4th place Perth Thunder and one game over the 3rd place Sydney Ice Dogs.
The Mustangs move to 19 points in 6th place but have played more games than anyone else at this stage of the season. They require at least 2 points from every game to have a chance at qualifying for the Goodall Cup Finals.
The Mustangs host the CBR Brave in a double header at O’Brien Group Arena this weekend while the Bears return home to host the Melbourne Ice. Catch all the action and grab your tickets here: http://aihl.net/2p5An4Z