CARDIFF DEVILS 5, VAXJO LAKERS 6 (OT)
As far as defeats come, this one will have been particularly difficult to swallow for the Cardiff Devils.
Everything seemed set for the Devils to claim a sensational Champions Hockey League victory over the Swedish champions and last year’s CHL runner’s up – right up until 4:18 into 3-on-3 overtime, when Joel Persson scored the decisive goal that silenced Ice Arena Wales.
Having battled back from a three-goal deficit, the Devils had the wind in their sails when two unanswered goals put them in front for the first time in the game giving them a 5-4 lead in the third period.
With 2:25 remaining in the last period, Persson raced through to send a backhand finish past Ben Bowns before the scoring again in overtime to seal his team the win.
The Devils exit the Champions Hockey League with two points obtained from the group stage and unable to close out their European schedule with a win. But make no mistake, this was a winning performance from Andrew Lord’s men in every aspect, bar the final scoreline.
“It sums up our tournament to be totally honest,” said Lord post-game.
“We’re right there with some of the best teams in Europe, outplaying them at times, hanging right in there with them – it’s just absolutely brutally frustrating, but at the same time, I’m very proud of our group.
“It just shows what our organisation has done in a short period of time and the direction our league is going in – it’s unbelievable how much better hockey has gotten in the UK recently.”
Extended spells of tireless penalty killing, a clinical power play and heroic goaltending saw the Devils remarkably wrestle control of a game that should never have been within their reach, only for it to cruelly slip away late on.
A remarkable second period turnaround saw the Devils go from trailing 3-0 to finishing the period tied 3-3 and very much back in the game.
Layne Ulmer, scored as a three-on-two rush saw the Devils eventually find way their past Lakers goalie Viktor Andren.
Within two minutes, the Devils had managed to pull another one back, this time Joey Martin tipping in Gleason Fournier’s blueline effort on a power play.
Another power play brought with it another goal as Stephen Dixon poked in Sean Bentivoglio’s patient pass from behind the goal to make it three apiece.
The third period was just 21 seconds old when the Lakers regained their lead but the Devils once again responded as Layne Ulmer scored his second goal of the night.
Amidst what felt an endless spell of stubborn penalty killing from the Cardiff Devils, Joey Martin somehow shook off the exhaustion to race through and sweep the puck past Andren to score a wonderful short-handed goal.
Joel Persson’s clinical finishing however would bring a heart-breaking end to the Devils’ Champions Hockey League campaign.
Photo credit: Richard Murray/Cardiff Devils