OXFORD City Stars kept their hopes alive of retaining the South Division 2 title with a thrilling 9-6 home win over Bristol Pitbulls.
The result, together with Slough Jets’ 7-3 win against Swindon Wildcats 2nd earlier on Saturday, leaves only Oxford and Slough in the race to be champions.
And, with just two games left, Stars, who trail Jets by one point, entertain Slough on Sunday, April 6 in what is likely to be a winner-takes-all game.
Oxford got off to a dream start when Alan Green netted after just 12 seconds, following up to score after James Pentecost’s shot was blocked.
Green struck again two minutes later, this time picking up his own rebound to fire home the puck after his first attempt was saved by John Dibble.
But then Bristol hit back with three goals in less than five minutes.
The first was a powerplay strike after Green was penal-ised for interference, and Grant Richardson fired in a slapshot from the blue line.
Less than a minute later, Jamie Newton showed a fantastic piece of individual skill before sliding the puck under James Skaife.
And Oxford fell behind, despite being on the powerplay after a Richie Hargreaves tripping penalty, when a mis-hit pass in the Bristol zone gave Newton a breakaway, and again he showed superb skill before sliding the puck home.
Stars were back on level terms before the end of the period, though, with man-of-the-match Mike Whillock firing home a slapshot.
Oxford made a flying start to the second period, scoring four times in ten minutes.
Nick Oliver combined brilliantly with his brother, Josh, before producing a great finish.
Then it was Josh Oliver’s turn to strike with a blistering shot after Whillock’s effort was saved by Dibble.
Pentecost was next to get on the scoresheet with a lovely tip-in over Dibble’s shoulder.
Whillock then scored his second, before Bristol pulled one back while on the powerplay, when Ollie Shone was allowed too much time and space to score and put the Stars 7-4 ahead.
The final period started with Oxford being penalised for having too many men on the ice at the close of the second session.
Bristol were unable to take advantage, though, and shortly afterwards Whillock completed his hat-trick with another excellent goal.
Josh Oliver had served half of a two-minute penalty for roughing when Josh Florey and then Andy Cox were also penalised for minor penalties leaving Oxford with a two-man disadvantage for nearly three minutes.
Skaife made several excellent saves during this spell, but Bristol were able to capitalise when Adrian Smith turned the puck in.
Bristol then pulled it back to 8-6 when Shone picked up a loose shot and fired it into the net.
Oxford called a time-out in order to regroup, and when play resumed, a late elbow from Bristol’s Hargreaves was missed by the referee.
However, a huge check by Josh Oliver on Hargreaves seconds later was not and he was made to serve a penalty for the rest of the game.
Whillock then had a fantastic breakaway, but was pulled down from behind by Mike Hargreaves with a hook.
Just after Oxford returned to five skaters, Phil Dibble hit James Clarke with a nasty shot to the head and a fight broke out, with the pair receiving misconduct penalties.
With Stars enjoying a powerplay, they clinched victory when Darren Elliott fired home a slapshot with aplomb after receiving a pass from Green.