An exquisite short handed goal from the most unlikeliest of players gave Fife Flyers a big 3-2 win over MK Lightning last night - but they made it harder than it ought to have been.
Defenceman Ricards Birzins doesn’t ring the red light often, but he picked his moment with perfect timing to deliver a game-changing goal that proved to be the winner.
With the match tied at 2-2 early in the third, he broke up a play, sending the puck bouncing out of Fife’s zone, and then took off on a solo burst down the ice.
Birzins went one on one with netminder Miika Wiikman, and delivered a finish any forward would have been proud of.
By the time his team-mates caught up with him to celebrate, he was already jumping into the air. A celebratory moment of sheer joy.
Birzins delivered just when Fife needed to regain control of a match they had let wriggle from their grasp.
Amid some free-flowing, end to end stuff, they played some smashing hockey, but also made some basic errors in their own zone to give Lightning a sense of an opening - one they exploited to come from 2-0 down to 2-2 amid some hefty pressure round Andy Iles’ net.
There were certainly many positives to take from this game, the first of three in three nights, but it’ll also go down as a reminder of what can happen when you go off script.
‘’We maybe got away with that one,’’ admitted Todd Dutiaume, head coach. ‘’We were firmly in control, and had we gone in 2-0 up we could have won the match far more comfortably.’’
Flyers went ahead at 7:58 with a well-taken goal - Shayne Stockton rode the check on the boards, rolled a long pass back to Charlie Mosey on the blue line, and his one-time shot was drilled straight into the net.
The second period was pretty much played under Fife’s control, but they somehow came out of it level at 2-2.
There were great chances round Wiikman’s net as Fife swarmed forward - Chase Schaber’s shot on the spin, LeBlanc went close and Young rattled the post, and another shot sparked a scramble which saw the puck lifted up and off the bar.
That pressure finally delivered after 28 minutes as Schaber delivered a peach of a goal, dragging the puck through his marker to create the space and then beating Wiikman with a clinical finish.
They then let MK back into the game, coughing a rebound goal to Denny Kearney, and then getting into a horrendous guddle behind their own net which Francis Verrault-Paul punished.
The second break gave Fife a chance to regroup, but they also needed their penalty kill unit to be on its toes early in the third before Birzins’ moment of magic at 48:39 altered the momentum.
Lightning stepped on the gas again late on, but Fife formed a tight circle round Iles who also remained unflappable as skates and bodies flew round him.
With 1:06 to play, MK pulled their netminder for one last roll of the dice, called a timeout with 17 seconds to play, but couldn’t find the equaliser to take this match into overtime.
>> Flyers travel to play Manchester Storm in Altrincham tonight, and return to home ice to host Braehead Clan on Sunday, face-off 6.30 pm.