Andy Fitzpatrick liked the spotlight so much he thought he’d steal it yet again.
The Leafs veteran had two goals to put Nelson ahead for good en route to a 4-1 victory at home against the struggling Spokane Braves on Saturday.
Fitzpatrick’s effort came one night after his goal with a minute left broke a tie in a 5-3 victory against Grand Forks.
“Everybody’s been working their asses off, putting in the work on the ice and off the ice, so it’s really nice when you get a game-winner two nights in a row,” he said. “[I’m] just out there having fun. No one likes losing.”
If the Leafs keep playing this way they’ll struggle to remember what losing is like.
Nelson has won three in a row and four out of their last five games. The victory against Spokane leapfrogged Nelson into second place and just one point behind the division-leading Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
“Team’s playing well, we’re buying into the systems, the coaching staff, the confidence that the players are exhibiting, I’m really pleased,” said head coach Mario DiBella.
Sam Weber and Sawyer Hunt also scored for Leafs (7-4-1), while Devin Allen made 21 saves in net.
Blake Norman was spectacular in net for the Braves (4-10-0) with 45 saves, while Andrew Clark had the team’s lone goal.
Saturday’s game was a grind for the Leafs. They pinned Spokane in its zone for the majority of play, but struggled to beat the Braves netminder.
“He’s a good goalie, but he can’t save them all,” said Fitzpatrick. “Just got to keep putting pucks on net hoping that one gets past, [and] it turns out to be the game winner.”
The Leafs opened the game with several shifts of offensive pressure, and the pace paid off eight minutes into the game. Austin Steger’s point shot was deflected by Weber, giving Nelson a well-deserved lead.
Nelson struck again just 62 seconds later. Fitzpatrick was on Norman’s doorstep when he banged the puck in for a 2-0 lead.
“Andy’s been working real hard in practice,” said DiBella. “We’ve been going over some shooting pointers from the old goaltender, and it’s paying dividends. He’s putting the puck in the net.”
The Braves ended the period in penalty trouble, but the Leafs couldn’t take advantage despite ending the first 20 minute with a 17-8 shot advantage.
The domination continued in the second period although not on the scoreboard. Norman kept Spokane within reach with several sweet saves including one on a Hunt breakaway.
Nelson rued not taking advantage of its chances when the Braves finally got on the scoreboard with 56 seconds left in the period. Steger was sent to the penalty box for cross-checking and Spokane took advantage with Clark’s point shot deflected in by a Leafs stick.
DiBella said he warned the Leafs in a pre-game speech not to play complacent against the Braves, who sit in the Neil Murdoch Division basement.
“You get into a game like that where a bounce or two ends up in the back of your net and suddenly a team that shouldn’t be competing necessarily is competing, and it makes for a tougher game,” he said.
Clark’s goal gave the Braves hope headed into the second intermission, but they needed Norman to bail them out yet again in the third as the Leafs’ barrage continued.
Fitzpatrick gave the Leafs an insurance goal on his team’s 45th shot of the game. He was in the slot when he whipped a shot low to beat Norman.
A spinning Hunt added one more goal in front of Norman with 29 seconds left to put the game out of Spokane’s reach.
Leaflets: Nelson next faces the Nitehawks in Fruitvale on Friday before hosting the Columbia Valley Rockies on Saturday. … The injury ward included F Colum McGauley, D Zach Morey, D Jacob Karran and G Jason Sandhu. F Kolten Nelson returned to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension.