Andrew Lord paid tribute to his Cardiff Devils players after their 3-2 Elite League home win against Fife Flyers at the Viola Arena in Cardiff Bay.
Blair Riley scored a last minute winner against Flyers to earn a victory which lifts Devils to within one point of leaders Sheffield Steelers with three games in hand.
“This is the closest group of guys I have ever coached,” said head coach Lord. “That togetherness is everything.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to hopefully win the Challenge Cup – we have a huge game against Steelers in the final – and we are in the thick of the title chase along with some very good teams.
“It looks like going to the wire. Consistency is the key – the most consistent team will winch trophy. Our job is to eliminate mistakes and play the right way.”
Devils outshot Flyers 52-29 and Canadian goalie Adam Morrison was in sensational form for Fife, but Devils stayed calm and skated to victory, albeit thanks to Riley’s late strike.
“We have eight or nine guys still here since the ownership changed and a core group of 15-16 returning guys,” said Lord. “We’ve been through it in this race a number of times and have experience to draw on.
“There is a will to win, a camaraderie among the guys. You need a close group and I’m proud of the guys
“We kept pushing and found a way.”
Joey Martin, Mark Richardson and Riley scored for Devils and all three came in the final period.
Devils, title winners in 2017 and 2019, and runners-up to Belfast last season,
Flyers scored the only goal of the opening period through former Devil Paul Crowder just three minutes into the game and that remained the score going into the final 20 minutes.
Martin levelled the score 16 seconds into the final period when he hammered home a puck poked onto his stick by Evan Mosey.
Then with less than minutes left, Richardson started and finished a passing move. He swapped passes with Masi Marjamaki to put Devils 2-1 ahead at 52-14.
Crowder tipped in his second goal with less than five minutes left to tie it up at 2-2 before Riley struck with the winner 49 seconds from the end.
Captain Martin pulled up just inside the Flyers zone and found Riley, who had plenty of time to fire the game winner past goalie Morrison.
Devils, who rested Charles Linglet and Mark Louis from the match, now turn to a home fixture against Guildford Flames at the Viola Arena one Saturday (7pm).
Scorers, Devils: Joey Martin 1+1, Mark Richardson 1+1, Blair Riley 1+0, Masi Marjamaki 0+1, Mike McNamee 0+1, Evan Mosey 0+1, Gleason Fournier 0+1,
Flyers: Paul Crowder 2+0, Danick Gauthier 0+1, Chase Schaber 0+2, Michal Gutwald 0+1
Period scores (Devils first): 0-1; 0-0 (0-1); 3-1 (3-2)
Shots on goal: Devils (on Adam Morrison) 21+19+17=57; Fife (on Ben Bowns) 5+9+8=22
Penalties in minutes: Devils 0+2+2=4; Flyers 0+2+2=4
Powerplays: Devils 2, Flyers 1
Face-offs won: Devils 52, Flyers 29
Man of the match: Mark Richardson
Referees: Stephen Matthews, Dean Smith
Goalies: Ben Bowns (back-up Thomas Murdy)
First line: Gleason Fournier, Mark Richardson, Joey Haddad, Joey Martin, Evan Mosey
Second line: Sean McMonagle, Bryce Reddick, Sean Bentivoglio, Stephen Dixon, Mat Pope
Third line: Sam Jardine, Shaone Morrisonn, Masi Marjamaki, Mike McNamee, Blair Riley
Fourth line: Josh Batch, Matthew Myers, Sam Duggan
Elite League standings (all teams play 54 matches)
Wednesday results: Glasgow Clan 2, Nottingham Panthers 4; Cardiff Devils 3, Fife Flyers 2; Guildford Flames 1, Belfast Giants 5
The Elite League title chase
Leaders – Sheffield Steelers
10 fixtures left (20 points maximum – 6 home, 5 away)
Saturday 22 @ Nottingham Panthers
Sunday 23 v Belfast Giants
Saturday 29 v Fife Flyers
Sunday 1 @ Guildford Flames
Friday 6 @ Cardiff Devils
Sunday 8 v Cardiff Devils – Challenge Cup Final at the Viola Arena, Cardiff Bay (4pm)
Saturday 14 v Manchester Storm
Saturday 21 v Dundee Stars
Sunday 22 @ Dundee Stars
Saturday 28 @ Manchester Storm
Sunday 29 v Cardiff Devils
Second – Cardiff Devils
13 fixtures left (26 points maximum – 7 home, 6 away)
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Saturday 22 v Guildford Flames
Sunday 23 @ Coventry Blaze
Saturday 29 @ Nottingham Panthers
Sunday 1 v Dundee Stars
Friday 6 v Sheffield Steelers
Sunday 8 v Sheffield Steelers – Challenge Cup Final at the Viola Arena, Cardiff Bay (4pm)
Saturday 14 v Guildford Flames
Sunday 15 @ Dundee Stars
Wednesday 18 v Coventry Blaze
Saturday 21 @ Nottingham Panthers
Sunday 22 v Manchester Storm
Wednesday 25 @ Glasgow Clan
Saturday 28 v Belfast Giants
Sunday 29 @ Sheffield Steelers
Third – Nottingham Panthers
12 fixtures left (24 points maximum – 7 home, 5 away)
Wednesday 19 @ Glasgow Clan
Saturday 22 v Sheffield Steelers
Sunday 23 @ Guildford Flames
Saturday 29 v Cardiff Devils
Sunday 1 v Coventry Blaze
Friday 13 @ Belfast Giants
Saturday 14 @ Belfast Giants
Tuesday 17 v Manchester Storm
Saturday 21 v Cardiff Devils
Sunday 22 v Coventry Blaze
Wednesday 25 v Guildford Flames
Saturday 28 @ Dundee Stars
Sunday 29 @ Glasgow Clan
Fourth – Belfast Giants
11 fixtures left (22 points maximum – 8 home, 3 away
Saturday 22 @ Manchester Storm
Sunday 23 @ Sheffield Steelers
Friday 28 v Guildford Flames
Saturday 29 v Guildford Flames
Friday 6 v Fife Flyers
Friday 13 v Nottingham Panthers
Saturday 14 v Nottingham Panthers
Friday 20 v Fife Flyers
Saturday 21 v Fife Flyers
Saturday 28 @ Cardiff Devils
Sunday 29 @ Coventry Blaze