Great Britain 3 Lithuania 0 - Hard slog sees hosts maintain momentum towards World Championship promotion end game
This time around, the venue is Nottingham as opposed to Belfast and the task is slightly easier, given Pete Russell’s team can seal an instant return back to competing against the likes of powerhouse nations such as Canada, Sweden and Finland via one of two available promotion spots.
But easier doesn’t necessarily mean easy, as seen by the need for overtime on Sunday to get the better of newly-promoted Poland and Tuesday night’s slog against a Lithuania side still waiting for their first victory of the tournament following this 3-0 win by the hosts.
There was a party atmosphere from the first puck drop, GB’s legendary raucous home support barely relenting throughout, no doubt expecting their team to record a third straight victory having earlier got the better of Korea and Poland over the weekend.
After going ahead with just 67 seconds on the clock when Cade Neilson danced his way down the middle unchecked and fired home from 10 yards, the only things threatening to hold the hosts back were the regular introduction of ‘Dance’ ‘Kiss’ and ‘Emoji Cams’ and a man called Dan in a pink jacket whose sole job was to get different sections of the crowd to cheer as loud as possible.
It was all designed to appeal to the many families that were in attendance and, while not for everybody, it was all good fun and part of the entertainment ‘package’ that has been part of a night out at the hockey for years now.
The best entertainment, of course, is usually that served up on the ice, although Ben Bowns in the GB goal could have been forgiven for dozing off inside the first 10 minutes, so little was he called into action.
But, as GB huffed and puffed in an attempt to add to Neilson’s opener, at times they pushed too hard and left the occasional opening for a Lithuanian team still looking for its first win of the tournament after their heavy opening day 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Poland was followed by a 3-2 defeat to Romania.
Bowns was called into action the longer the period went on, but nothing that was too testing for him, shots coming from distance more often than not, until Sheffield Steelers’ Sam Jones coughed up possession in his own zone, leading to a Lithuanian forward rounding the back of the GB net and forcing Bowns to move sharpish to his right post and deny.
By then, the hosts had forged 2-0 ahead when Sheffield Steelers’ Robert Dowd made room for himself to fife home five-hole on Mantas Armalis on the power play at 16.42.
After the break, it was more of the same, GB spending plenty of time camped in the Lithuanian zone, with Ben Lake coming closest inside the first few minutes when he weaved his way to the front of the net only to be denied by Armalis.
Lithuania had an opportunity to reduce the deficit when Dowd went to the box on a tripping call in the 28th minute, his team’s first penalty of the evening,.
But the minute or so power play that the Lithuanians enjoyed failed to produce much by way of goal-scoring opportunities and passed without incident.
The third period saw the willingness continue from both teams to slug it out at either end of the ice without creating too much by way of ‘Grade A’ scoring chances.
It became scrappy in parts and, truth be told, Lithuania - no doubt growing increasingly desperate for their first points of the week - perhaps edged possession and certainly made Bowns work a lot harder than in the first 40 minutes, although he was rarely uncomfortable.
In the end it was a case of ‘job done’, - the game-clinching goal coming in the form of an empty-net strike from Nathaniel Halbert at 58.10 - but Russell and his coaching staff will want to see better from their team against Romania on Wednesday night, certainly on Friday when they take on joint-favourites Italy in the tournament closer in a game that could have huge repercussions for both teams.
That is because earlier in the day, an increasingly impressive Poland threw a spanner in the works for what was looking like a simple showdown between GB and Italy for the top two spots.
Poland dented Italy’s hopes of an instant return to the top tier when they ran out deserved 4-2 victors.
That results has effectively turned this tournament into a three-horse race, as opposed to the two candidates that most people assumed would be battling it out for gold and silver in the shape of the hosts and the Italians - coached by Mike Keenan, the Stanley Cup-winning coach with the New York Rangers in 1994.
Given his former team were eliminated earlier in the day in game seven of their first round play-off encounter with arch-rivals the New Jersey Devils, it was a day he would probably rather forget.