Nottingham Lions 3 Blackburn Eagles 0
The Nottingham Lions ended their unwanted run of four straight defeats, with a convincing 3-0 blanking of bottom-side Blackburn Eagles at the National Ice Centre, on Sunday evening.
Goals from Stephen Breisner, Slawomir Kasprzak and Rob Perks sealed the win for the Lions and secured the two points needed to guarantee a fourth place finish in the Laidler Conference standings.
Having already qualified for next month's play off weekend in Solihull, Nottingham's main priority was to address their recent poor run of form, which had seen them go without a victory since their 1-0 win over Hull Jets, back in early February.
Matt Bradbury's side were also aware that one more win would see them secure a play off semi-final against third-placed Coventry Blaze. Thus avoiding taking on the newly crowned, league champions Solihull Barons until the final, should each team make it through their respective semis.
Despite Blackburn's lowly position at the foot of the conference table, they were certainly not a team to be taken for granted, as their performance levels and resolve have undoubtedly increased as the season has progressed, culminating with a 6-4 win over Widnes Wild (a team who have beaten the Lions twice this season), back in November and then tying second-placed Deeside Dragons to a 3-3 draw last weekend.
Marksman, Joe Wightman was still missing through injury, defensemen James Francis-Barrie and Cameron Good also missed out, whilst young netminder Tom Hovell replaced the absent Alan Levers, making his third start of the season. Youngsters Sam Illsley, Joe Gretton and Luke Evans were all drafted in from the Under-18s and captain Luke Thomas made his one-hundredth appearance for the team.
Despite the distance between two sides in the league standings, the game began with both teams putting pressure on their respective goalies and for a short period of time it was the Eagles who looked like they were going to make the breakthrough, with Hovell making a number of impressive stops to keep the visitors at bay.
However, it was Nottingham who found the opening goal after thirteen minutes, when Craig Wallis’ shot from the point was redirected by the stick of Stephen Breisner in the slot, fooling Nic Saxton in the Blackburn goal and giving the Lions a slender lead going into the first intermission.
Fresh from the break, Nottingham started the second period in a much more sprightly fashion, with Dan Hazeldine being denied by the heroics of Saxton on no fewer than three occasions, as the Eagles defence struggled to cope with the promising forward’s pace and puck control.
Both sides found it hard to get into a rhythm, during what was a penalty-strewn twenty minutes, which at one point saw the crowd treated to the rare sight of three-on-three hockey for just over a minute of play.
For all the Lions’ chances, it was Blackburn who came closest to finding the net on thirty-one minutes, when they struck the inside of Hovell’s left-hand post before the puck trickled back out and into the glove of the relived custodian.
The period ended scoreless, leaving the game finely balanced and certainly too close for comfort for Matt Bradbury’s men, who were determined not to be the first side to drop points at home to the Eagles this season.
The Lions’ class finally shone through in the final period, with Polish forward Kasprzak, snatching his third goal of the season, after just six seconds of the restart.
Perks then added Nottingham’s third of the night eight minutes later, to put any hopes of a Blackburn fight back firmly to bed.
Then, with five minutes left on the clock, Lions’ Ben Wood, not normally known for using his fists, despatched of his second opponent in as many games, when he comfortably dominated Eagles’ Christian Wareing, sending him tumbling to the ice with a tirade of unanswerable blows.
Kasprzak then also briefly tussled with Harry Bolton in a fight which proved to be the last real action of the game, as both teams then ran the clock down without further major incident, ensuring Nottingham claimed their first home shut out of the season and Hovell’s first in the senior game.
The Lions now have two weeks to prepare for a double-header weekend, taking on the Eagles at Blackburn Arena on Saturday 29th March (5.45pm) before returning to the NIC the following day (30th March) to take on the Hull Jets, in their final game of the regular season. Face off is at 7.30pm and ticket details are available by clicking here.
Stephen Breisner 1+1, Slawomir Kasprzak 1+0, Rob Perks 1+0, Craig Wallis 0+1, Dan Hazeldine 0+2, Luke Thomas 0+1.
Period Scores: 1st 1-0, 2nd 0-0, 3rd 2-0.
Shots: 1st 11-8, 2nd 23-3, 3rd 16-5. Total: 50-16.
Penalty Mins: 1st 2-2, 2nd 22-12, 3rd 12-12. Total: 36-26.
Lions MOTM (sponsored by Ice Breakers): Sam Illsley.