Devils 6 – 2 Flames
This challenge cup quarter final had been perfectly set up with a 3-3 away draw in the first leg, and then overtime defeat at Guildford on Saturday. This had ended somewhat bizarrely with Toms Rutkiss being awarded Man of the Match, when he hadn’t played a shift. This was interpreted as a deliberate provocation by many Devils fans, although the swift apology from Guildford suggests it was more prosaic human error.
Whatever the cause, the Devils players were noticeably pumped prior to the start of the game, and this transferred into playing style. The Flames have marked their debut season with a high scoring, pacy game. At times the Devils have struggled to contain this, but tonight they more than matched it. Rarely has the IAW witnessed such a breathless, end to end game. Whether it was a hangover from Rutkissgate, or a realisation that controlled aggression was the best way to combat this Flames team, the Devils were finishing checks with a relish not always in evidence this season.
In my last post I praised the Devils PK unit and nowhere was the efficiency of this more evident than in an heroic shift from Myers in the first, where he wrapped players up by the boards and set up two scoring chances. He limped off, exhausted. Shortly after killing this penalty, Martin dodged a check behind the goal, chipped it out and Mo batted it home to give the Devils the lead. In Guildford on Saturday the Devils had been guilty of not capitalising on their first period pressure, but that was not the case tonight. A millimetre perfect pass from Fournier to Mo on the blue line allowed a second to be set up. This time it was Martin who executed the mid-air baseball swing, but this was blocked and the rebound fell to Mo to knock in at close range. The Devils finished the period with a third goal when some persistent ferreting from Crowder released the puck for Benti to pass across the crease and Asselin to finish by the far post.
The second period did not see any let up in pace. The Devils have been guilty of slackening their tempo in the second in recent games, which was costly at Guildford and countered in the third against Nottingham. Although neither team added to the score in the second, it retained it’s frenetic pace and ended with Ben Davies being used as a human pinball with three consecutive hits from Devils players. The Flames outshot the Devils and Dunbar and the tireless Ackered pulled out important saves from Bowns.
After successfully executing another penalty kill in the third, Ferguson was allowed to get to the net unchallenged and opened the scoring for the Flames. Any prospect of a Flames comeback was short-lived as the Devils looked eager to kill the game off. Mo missed a couple of chances before a lay back from Ulmer found Benti who swept the puck through Carrozzi’s five hole. This was added to shortly after when a break away saw Asselin one on one, and he nonchalantly lifted it backhand over Carrozzi’s glove to seal the game. The impressive Armstrong got a second for the Flames with a diving poke past Bowns, but Matt Pope responded with a long range empty netter to make it 6-2 to the Devils.
In a season that had a stuttering start, a long winning streak which was occasionally characterised by scrappy wins, this probably represents the most complete Devils performance this season. They may not be able to maintain this intensity for every game, but knowing that it is within their capabilities means any game is potentially winnable, and finally this team look like worthy successors to last year’s championship one.