Paul Crowder had a 6-point night and the Sydney Ice Dogs defeated the Melbourne Mustangs 6-1 at the O’Brien Icehouse on Sunday afternoon.
The win capped off a 6-point weekend in Melbourne for the Ice Dogs, who despite being out of contention for the AIHL Finals, have played spoiler to the Mustangs’ finals hopes with a 5-goal victory to make things very tight with one week to go.
The Ice Dogs were fielding a depleted line-up due to injuries and suspensions to several of their players from the previous game against the Melbourne Ice.
The Mustangs were on the back foot right from the start as the Dogs opened the scoring just 54 seconds into the first period, when Dylan Manierka-Quaile beat Kevin Nastiuk for a 1-0 lead.
Crowder then combined with his brother Tim for the second goal with a beautiful move, slipping it five-hole in the slot after getting a slick pass and the Dogs had a two goal advantage with 8:24 to go.
Both Jamie Bourke and Christian Isackson had golden chances for the Mustangs in the first but Garrett Bartus stood tall, making several fine saves as he would do so for the remainder of the game.
Paul added another 56 seconds from the end of the period and the Ice Dogs were firmly in command, heading into the break with a 3-0 lead and all the momentum.
Shots were 10-7 in favour of the Mustangs.
Things got worse for the Mustangs in the second with Tim Crowder notching his 33rd goal of the season for a 4-0 Mustangs lead, with 11:04 to go in the second.
Skipper Michael McMahon tried to spark his team with a coast-to-coast rush only to be slashed at the end and draw a penalty, which the Mustangs ultimately failed to convert on.
Bartus again stood tall for the Dogs during the period, making quality stops on Vadim Virjassov, Sean Jones and Isackson to keep the scoresheet clean and the scoreline 4-0 after two periods.
Despite having to kill off two consecutive penalties to start the third period, Bartus continued to stand on his head for Sydney, punctuating his performance with an awesome glove save on Bourke in the high slot to keep it 4-0.
Bourke would have his goal though, later adding one for the Mustangs with 8:06 to play, to bring the crowd and the Mustangs back into the game.
However, it was too little and too late. Penalties cancelled out the momentum as Crowder completed his hat-trick and Strat Allen added a late goal, to give the Ice Dogs a 6-1 win and the 6 points on their final road trip for season 2019.
Bartus stopped 33 from 34 in the win while Nastiuk went 10 from 16.
The Mustangs now sit in 5th spot on 39 points with two games remaining. The Bears’ win over the Adrenaline means that the Mustangs now must win both their remaining games and rely on other results in order to make the AIHL Finals.
The Ice Dogs are now on 34 points and can finish with a maximum of 40 points from their last two games.
Ice Dogs’ coach Andrew Petrie remained strategic about their approach to the game, despite the focus being more about fun for the Ice Dogs’ players at this stage of the season.
“We had a good weekend. We were expecting an avalanche of aggression and speed from them in the first period which they just didn’t bring. We spent the game waiting for them to come at us and they just didn’t at any stage,” Petrie said.
“We took away the centre of the ice from them in our own half of the rink and we made sure we flooded the house in between the dots, which eliminated a lot of their offensive opportunities.”
"Aside from that, I think the Mustangs are the only team in the finals race that can beat the Brave on their day."
Both teams will meet in a rematch at Macquarie on the last day of the season, which could very likely determine who makes the AIHL Finals. The Ice Dogs also have the Bears at home on Friday night while the Mustangs travel to Newcastle on Saturday.