Mustangs taking home ice advantage. Photo: Paul Furness.
The Melbourne Mustangs defeated the CBR Brave 6-3 in the last regular season meeting between the two clubs for 2018, in a penalty-filled affair at the O’Brien Group Arena on Sunday night.
The Mustangs were looking to bounce back from a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Brave the night before, where they fell just short despite staging a third period comeback.
The Brave opened the scoring through Wehebe Darge who picked up his 8th goal of the year after a feed from Matt Harvey, to make it 1-0 Brave with 11:05 to play in the first.
Jamie Bourke had a golden opportunity to draw the Mustangs level on a breakaway a few minutes later after slipping by the Mustangs’ defence, but was denied by the left pad of Matt Hewitt.
The Mustangs poured shot after shot on Hewitt in the CBR Brave net who turned away everything they had to offer, until Ben Davies finally found a way through. Davies took a slick backhand pass from Nikita Kolesnikovs across the slot, where Davies stuffed it through the five hole of Hewitt and the puck just dribbled across the line to tie the game. It finished 1-1 heading into the first intermission.
Jamie Bourke with a goal and an assist. Photo: Paul Furness
Despite being a man down, the Mustangs would then strike next on the scoreboard less than a minute after the restart.
Brett Ferguson picked off a weak clearing attempt by Darge at the blue line, before slotting it past Hewitt to give the Mustangs a 2-1 lead. It was the Mustangs’ first short-handed goal for the season.
Kolesnikovs picked up his first ever AIHL goal minutes later, after getting his own rebound and backhanding it past Hewitt to give the Mustangs a two-goal lead with 11:47 to play in the 2nd.
Ainars Podzins answered for the CBR Brave with his 13th goal of the season a minute later, putting a laser beam past Petri Pitkanen upstairs on the blocker side, to close the gap to 3-2. Bourke made sure the momentum stayed with the Mustangs by shooting through a screened Hewitt and restored the two-goal buffer a few shifts later with 8:10 to play in the period.
Both Hewitt and Pitkanen made several fine saves to steady their sides, although a spiteful 2nd period saw 28 minutes in penalties dished out, as well as several scuffles after the whistle.
The Brave poured on the offence to start period 3 and were rewarded when Trevor Gerling got his 12th goal of the year. Gerling took a cross ice feed from Podzins at the top of the left hand face-off circle before putting a wrist shot past Pitkanen, closing the gap to 4-3 with 15:32 to play.
That momentum was cancelled out after Kai Miettinen received a double minor for high sticking Brad Apps moments later. The Mustangs scored on the ensuing power play with Ferguson scoring his 2nd of the game and extending the Mustangs’ lead to 5-3.
The Brave’s best chance to score another fell to Chris Leveille, who beat everyone bar the cross bar of Pitkanen’s net and that’s how CBR’s scoresheet would remain for the game.
Ben Davies added an empty net insurance goal with 32 seconds remaining in the game, only after another 30 minutes of penalties were handed out. Joey Hughes and Michael McMahon were given an early shower after a tangle off of the face-off following Davies’ goal.
Bourke celebrating the mustangs win. Photo: Phil Taylor.
With the win, the Mustangs ended up splitting the season series 2-2 with the league-leading Brave, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
Pitkanen stopped 19 of 22 shots in the win, while Hewitt went 24 from 30. The Mustangs finished 1 for 13 on the power play for the night, while the Brave went 0 for 12.
The Mustangs now have 22 points from 19 games and do not play again until the 22nd of July, against the Sydney Ice Dogs at the O’Brien Group Arena.
The Brave remain at the top of the table on 39 points from 17 games, 9 points clear of the 2nd place Newcastle North Stars who they will face on the 14th July at home.