The Newcastle Northstars came from behind three times to snatch a dramatic win over the Sydney Ice Dogs 5-4 in a shootout at the Macquarie Ice Rink and seal a place in the Australian Ice Hockey League finals.
Goalie Charlie Smart kept the Northstars in the match before captain Robert Malloy iced the win in the shootout.
"Charlie played very well," coach John Kennedy Junior said. "He made some outstanding saves throughout the game, especially in over-time. In the shootout we got to the fourth shooter and captain Robert Malloy sealed the deal for us."
The win moved the second-placed Northstars to 49 points and out-of-reach of fifth place Mustangs with three games remaining.
"That solidifies us for the finals," a delighted Kennedy Junior said. "Even though we have been in second place, the teams in third fourth and fifth are still chomping at the bit. It is a good thing to tick off before playing Canberra [next weekend]. We have that out of our minds and we are not putting too much pressure on that game."
After hosting leaders Canberra, the Northstars are away to the Mustangs and cellar dwellers Adelaide.
"The next few games are going to be play-off hockey," Kennedy said. "We have Canberra, who really it is their cup until someone takes it away. Then we have the Melbourne Mustangs who are trying to get into the play-offs. Our next two games will be the most intense we have had this year."
On Sunday, the Northstars trailed 1-0 early and 2-1 at the end of the first period.
Luke Simpson and Sammy Banga scored to put the visitors ahead, only for the Ice Dogs to hit back with two late goals to take a 4-3 advantage into the final period.
Malloy equalised with five minutes remaining before providing the heroics in the shootout.
"It was a very exciting game," Kennedy Junior said. "The boys responded very well in the second and third period and never gave up. Sammy Banga and Francis Drolet have been consistent for us all year. Then on the back side defensively we had strong play from Matt Lindsay, Bert Malloy and Matt Wetini who has joined us for the last stretch. He had a great game and was very solid."