AFTER achieving two surprise away wins in quick succession, the Vipers left the ice for the first break with only their pride to play for.
Having missed both of the road games against the Hull Stingrays and the league leading Belfast Giants, Vipers’ captain Paul Sample returned to action after being sidelined by flu.
Netminder Charlie Effinger was busy from the start, having to get behind shots let loose by Tylor Michel and Stuart Macrae.
Perhaps as an indication it was not to be the Vipers’ night, defenceman John Schwarz was injured in a collision with an official and had to leave the ice.
The Vipers missed his strong presence on the blueline.
After wasting a powerplay opportunity , the Vipers came under further pressure – during which a goal attempt hit by Max Birbraer struck metalwork.
It was no surprise when the Vipers went behind on seven minutes, Kenton Smith the scorer, and it became 2-0 on 13 minutes when Macrae’s shot eluded Effingers’ reach. Under two minutes later the deficit increased. Seventeen seconds after settling into the away penalty box, Sample had company when player coach Danny Stewart joined him.
The Devils took little time to capitalise on their five-on-three powerplay, Michel scoring from point with 15 minutes elapsed.
Sample was serving his second hooking penalty of the night when the Vipers went further behind, Birbraer hitting home the powerplay with three seconds left in the period. Halfway through the second period referee Tom Darnell penalised Devil Ryan Finnerty for roughing, but it was not going to be the third time lucky for the Vipers on the powerplay.
Instead, a minute into the powerplay the puck was flying past Effinger for a fifth time – Birbraer bagging his second on 31 minutes.
The possibility of the Vipers being shut out for the fifth time this season was ended three minutes into the final period.
The game winner in Belfast Jaroslav Rzeszutko netted his ninth goal of the season to conclude the Vipers’ fourth powerplay after a lucky bounce off the back boards fell nicely for him.
With six minutes left to play, Effinger was beaten again with Finnerty getting the goal.
Two more goals in the final minute made it an even more of a dismal night for the Vipers.
Brad Voth made it 7-1 and, with 10 seconds of the match remaining, Birbraer completed his hat-trick.
For the second game in succession, the shot count against Effinger was in the 40s. Last night he faced a 48-shot barrage and made 18 of his 40 saves in the third period alone.
DEVILS: Birbraer 3+0, Finnerty, Michel and Voth 1+1, Macrae and K. Smith 1+0, Hill 0+3, Adams, Matzka, Pelle, Richardson, S. Smith and Weller 0+1.
VIPERS: Rzeszutko 1+0.