Great Britain 7-1 Estonia
NOTTINGHAM, Eng. -- Great Britain ensured it'll be a straight shoot-out between themselves and Hungary for a spot in the final Olympic qualifiers after their 7-1 win over Estonia at the Motorpoint Arena.
It was a four-goal second period that did it for Pete Russell's side, Brett Perlini notching a double in the middle frame and Ollie Betteridge and Scott Conway - with his first international goal - also found the twine to take the game beyond their visitors.
Belfast Giants forward Ben Lake added a powerplay goal in the final period, while captain Jonathan Phillips and Conway, with his second of the evening, also put the puck past Estonia netminder Ville-Henrik Koitmaa - 31 saves - to add the icing to the cake.
Netminder Ben Bowns added 22 saves in the victory that, along with Hungary's 3-2 overtime win over Romania in Saturday's early game, sets up a one-game decider between the two nations for a spot in August's final qualifiers on Sunday evening (6pm).
"We had to get past Estonia and Romania first, but we knew Sunday's game would be the big one. We did our job on Thursday and then tonight, so we hope we're hitting our peak," said GB assistant coach, and Belfast Giants head coach, Adam Keefe.
"It'll certainly have to be our best game against a team that we've seen before, so we know what to expect."
It was another dominant display from the tournament hosts, to go with Thursday's misleading 4-3 scoreline against Romania, as they continue to trend it the right direction ahead of their shoot-out with the Hungarians on Sunday.
Not only did Russell's men practically dominate the entire game, the peripheral numbers will also look good for the coaching staff too, with GB keeping a near spotless disciplinary record by taking their only penalty of the game with 1:01 remaining, while their own powerplay went 2-for-2.
"We were a bit ropey against Romania at times, and today we started pretty badly in that first period. Whether it was nerves or being too cautious I don't know," said netminder Bowns.
"We've been together long enough to stick together though. I thought the guys came out in the second and third periods and were awesome."
Lake had the first chance of the game, Ben Davies putting the puck back in front for the Giants forward after a giveaway behind the net, only for the winger to delay the shot and see it deflected over.
At the other end, Bowns had to be exceptional to deny Christopher Usov after he stripped Ben O'Connor of the puck and fired a backhand on net, then even better to make a point-blank stop from Alexei Sibirtsev from Andrei Makrov's feed.
But having gotten into the locker room level at the intermission, that was all GB needed to explode offensively in the middle period to take the game away from their visitors.
"We just weren't good enough. We needed to wake up and get going. Pete used a few more choice words than that. But we showed up," praised Bowns.
Perlini opened the scoring at 2:04 of the second with his first of the game, the Nottingham Panthers forward manoeuvring himself in front of the net and tipping in Davy Phillips' shot from the blue-line past Koitmaa for 1-0.
But it was a 51-second double salvo that was the real killing blow for GB, Betteridge doubling the lead at 8:27 when he slammed home a one-timer from Brendan Connolly's feed for 2-0, then Conway adding his maiden goal for the third, outlasting Koitmaa to slide in for 3-0 at 9:18.
"That was really nice. It doesn't matter where it is, or what it is, it's always nice to get that first goal. It was nice for my cousin (Perlini) to be on the ice too," said Conway.
By this stage, the hosts were in complete ascendancy, and after Matthew Myers pinged the crossbar from Ben Davies' pass, the GB powerplay clicked on its first outing when Estonia were called for too many men.
The passing was crisp and the finish was emphatic, Perlini getting his second of the game with a peach of a one-timer from the right circle for 4-0 at 12:43.
Bowns made a nice stop to deny Makrov at his near post, however his hopes of a shutout came to a premature end with 1:04 to the second intermission, Sibirtsev able to work the puck onto his stick in a scramble at the goalmouth and finish for 4-1.
Any chance that Estonia had of potentially mounting a comeback ended early in the third, however, when skipper Lauri Lahesalu took a high sticking minor after a long period of play without a whistle, and GB made them pay with two rapid-fire strikes.
It was Lake who grabbed the powerplay marker, tipping in a bobbling puck at the crease for 5-1 at 8:40 of the final frame, and then 24 seconds later the hosts made it six, Jonathan Phillips rapping one in from the tightest of angles in the left circle for 6-1.
And Conway rounded off the scoring with 5:13 remaining, the forward skating onto the puck at the blue-line and picking his spot perfectly over the glove side of Koitmaa for the finish to send GB into the deciding game with plenty of confidence.
"We need to be engaged for the full 60 minutes. We can't have a shift off or make any mental mistakes because (Hungary) will punish us with their higher quality offense," claimed Keefe.
"We need to escape better and handle the puck better than we have. They have that real quality line with (János) Hári, so we really need to shut them down, and then once we have chances - and we will have chances - we've got to bear down and finish them."
In the earlier game, Hungary made it two from two with a 3-2 victory over Romania, however they needed overtime to do so, forward Csanad Erdely the game-winner 15 seconds into the extra frame.
Daniel Tranca gave Romania the lead, but goals from Andrew Saraurer and Kristóf Papp put Hungary ahead, before Anton Butochnov's strike 4:51 from the end forced overtime.
"(GB) are going to bring a hard game, fast-paced hockey. We just have to stick to the game plan, get pucks deep and secure the win," said man of the match Papp.
"We have to treat every game the same, keep a level head on the ice. We trust each other to go out there and do our thing."