COVENTRY Blaze dramatically clawed their way to a 4-3 penalty shootout victory against Manchester Storm on Sunday night, amending for their agonising 6-5 defeat away at the Belfast Giants the night before.
The scores remained tied at the end of 60 minutes and with overtime already played, setting up the scene for Nicolai Bryhnisveen to slot the winning penalty after netminder Matt Hackett’s heroics.
It earns the Blaze a vital two points in their play-off push, sitting just a point behind Sheffield Steelers – who occupy the final play-off place.
Thom Flodqvist and Jake Hansen missed out through injury, whilst Justin Hache was out through suspension in the previous night’s game in Belfast, but otherwise the Blaze were at full-strength.
A powerplay goal from Bryhnisveen brought Coventry the opening goal and the Norwegian’s ninth in the league this season (8.19), doubled on 12.26 after Alex Nikiforuk and Tim Crowder interchanged the play and set up Kevin Morris to slide the puck home.
For their fantastic play to open the match, the Blaze were made to pay for letting their guard slip and allowing Dane Byers to score (30.07) following Mike Hammond’s mesmerising run.
A 5-on-3 powerplay opportunity arose for the hosts, but they couldn’t get the better of Harrison Ruopp who superbly intervened to keep the scoring at the end of the period at 2-1.
Manchester Storm struck a leveller through Hammond (44.59), before Blaze hit the back of the net, only to be disallowed following a review with the scores level.
Luke Ferrara made amends when skidding his shot past the Storm keeper via the skate of a Storm player to make it 3-2 to Coventry on 51.23.
Less than four minutes later, it was 3-3 when Rob Linsmayer’s long-range hit was deflected in via a Blaze player, a stroke of fortune but one that sent the game into overtime.
Both netminder’s were in fine form, shutting out any overtime attempts, but it would be down to Bryhnisveen’s strike in the shootout that decided the game.
Speaking after the game, head coach Danny Stewart was proud of the fighting spirit in his side to get over the line.
“It was a gutsy effort, missing three key guys and coming back from a tough game in Belfast last night.
“The guys picked themselves up and we had a great performance. It was a crucial two points.”
The previous night was a first trip to Ireland for the Blaze, but goals from Jonathan Ferland (8.27), Patrick Dwyer (11.08) and Kendall McFaull (16:00) left the visitors shell shocked.
The response to clamber back to 4-4 going into the final period was testament to the fighting spirit in Stewart’s ranks.
Ben Lake (23.11) was knocked back by Dustin Johner’s powerplay strike (30.54), but Nikiforuk (32.33) and a Shawn Pauly double (33.54 and 38.27) made Blaze fans think the impossible was on the cards.
When Ross Venus put them ahead on 48.19, it looked like a miracle was about to happen.
Josh Roach quickly put those thoughts to one side (51.37), before the damning winner struck by Darcy Murphy (58.32) left the Blaze devastated.
Coventry next go to the Cardiff Devils on Saturday (7pm), before hosting the Sheffield Steelers the next day (5:15pm).