Blackburn Eagles 5 – Widnes Wild 4
The RTL sponsored Widnes Wild put in a battling performance away at champions elect Blackburn Eagles on Saturday night but their efforts were in vain as they ended up coming home on the wrong end of a 5-4 defeat, writes Paul Breeze.
The game - once it eventually got under way, after a 30 minute delay due to a plexi-glass issue at the Blackburn Arena - actually started off well for the Wild as player coach Ollie Barron the Wild as player coach Ollie Barron poked the loose puck through a mass of players in front of the goal to put them in the lead within 90 seconds of the start.
However, the lead lasted just a little over 4 minutes as the Eagles equalised and then went on to edge ahead, after taking advantage of some Wild penalty calls, to fire in two unanswered powerplay goals. A fourth goal for the Eagles – coming from a quick breakaway after a Wild attack - with just over 3 minutes left to go in the period put them well in front and seemed a little harsh on the Wild who were left with a mountain to climb with the score standing at 4-1 at the first break.
Widnes seemed to find their stride in the second period, managing to stop the one way flow that had prevailed in the latter stages of the first, and looked likely to bounce back.
Unfortunately, just as it looked as if they were making some headway, both their in-form scorers - Bobby Caunce and Stuart Brittle - picked up penalties and were banished from the ice at the same time, Caunce for a two minute slashing penalty on Brittle on a 10 minute misconduct.
The Widnes defence looked a lot more solid in the second period and the Wild were able to capitalise on an Eagles tripping penalty when Ollie Barron fired in his second goal of the game - with a long shot form the blue line that ricocheted in off the post - just after the half-way mark.
However, the recovery lasted less than a minute as Blackburn scored again to restore their 3 goal advantage.
There was no more scoring in the second period and the score at the second break stood at 5-2 in favour of the home side.
Widnes came out fired up for the final time of the night and enjoyed a lot possession in the last period. Despite this, they had trouble converting their chances into goals and tempers began to flare on both sides.
A Wild powerplay due to a Blackburn tripping penalty saw Ollie Barron score his hat trick goal – another fierce slapshot from the blue line - to pull Widnes back to within two goals of the Eagles with 12 minutes still to play.
Then, an altercation on the boards between Wild’s Lee Kemp and Eagles’ star defenceman Chris Arnone saw both sent to the box with 2+10 minute penalties, along with another Blackburn player.
The aftermath of this saw Widnes captain Shaun Dippnall score the Wild’s 4th goal with a crafty speculative flick from the face-off circle that caught everybody off guard – including the Eagles netminder – and narrowed the margin to a single goal with 7½ minutes to go.
The remaining minutes of the game were played at a frantic pace with Eagles on the back foot and Widnes throwing everything they could at the Blackburn goal.
As it turned out, there was no more scoring but the match officials still had more work to do as a few scuffles broke out at the final buzzer.
Wild players Andrew Turner, Simon Offord and Danny Bullock all picked up 10 minute misconduct penalties, along with 3 Blackburn players.
The result meant that the Eagles needed just one point from their remaining 4 games to secure the Laidler Conference title - and they went on to achieve that with a 1-5 win away at Hull Jets on Sunday.
Widnes are already guaranteed a second place finish and have also qualified for the end of season play offs.
After the game, Player Coach Ollie Barron said:
“First of all, congratulations to Blackburn Eagles on winning the league – they have been the most consistent team this season, so well done to them.
The game itself started off well, taking the lead to settle the nerves slightly in the opening few minutes but we ran into penalty trouble which really cost us going down 4-1 at the end of the first.”
“I felt we just had to be more composed and not try to rush the game and believed we could get back into the game if we all stuck to our roles.
"We did show good character to battle back into the game, unfortunately just falling short.”
“Our fans in Blackburn this weekend were fantastic once again – thank you to everyone for their continued support.”
After having clocked up over 620 miles on their travels in recent weeks, the Wild are back at home for the first time in over a month next Sunday 12th March when they entertain Hull Jets at Silver Blades Widnes. Face off is at 5.30pm and doors open at 4.45.
Looking ahead, Barron said: “Our attention now turns to the 3 remaining home games. It has been a while since we have played at home so I am looking forward to have 3 games to try and build some momentum going into the end of season playoffs.
"It starts with Hull this weekend – who are much improved since our early season encounters – so I am expecting a good game.”