Düsseldorfer EG, bottom of the DEL after the first 29 rounds of the 2012/13 season, travelled to München with the intention of getting themselves back into the playoff race. EHC on the other hand, coming off a huge 5-4 win in Straubing on Friday night, came out firing in the hope of keeping their winning streak alive.
Paul Stastny once again decided the opening face-off in his favour and while some fans were still finding their seats, EHC took a 1-0 lead after only 91 seconds. Wheeler and Stastny set up Buchwieser who converted a tap-in to send the 3,753 home fans into a roar of delight, even if some of them were still standing. Once again it was the perfect display from EHC's top line, both NHL signings in particularly, as they combined with the necessary skill and vision to complete the move.
With Christmas Eve looming, the club delivered its own special gift to the supporters, announcing the extension of both North American stars' contracts for the duration of the NHL lockout.
Three minutes into the game, EHC Red Bulls München should have added a second goal when Buchwieser sent Wheeler through on a break away, but Düsseldorf's goalie Robert Goepfert denied him. The Red Bulls played powerful, aggressive, smart hockey from the start, leaving Düsseldorf no other way to stop them than foul play. To show how tough and dedicated some of the players were, Düsseldorf's Carl Ridderwall stopped the puck with his face. He was left with a bleeding cut above his left eye. With more puck possession and more shots on goal during the first 20 minutes of play, München took their one goal lead into the first interval.
A few minutes into the 2nd period, Buchwieser sent a perfect pass right onto the stick of Wheeler who should have given the team a two-goal lead. Once again though, a strong Goepfert in goal denied him. München kept firing at the away side's goalkeeper but it wasn't until the 35th minute that they broke through. Blake Sloan added EHC's second goal of the night before Sören Sturm added their third 44 seconds later. Little input provided maximum output in the middle of the game and the back-to-back goals gave München a comfortable three-goal lead going into the final 20 minutes.
Mike Kompon finished a nice move with Sturm and Ulmer to give Munich a 4-0 lead in the 46th minute, before Düsseldorf's Ashton Rome had scored a consolation goal for Düsseldorf in the 54th minute with a deflected shot. The away side's tried to give themselves one final chance but they remained unrewarded and with frustration growing, their reputation as the "roughest team in the league" proved true as they committed a host of minor penalties.
Stastny almost added a fifth goal in the final two minutes, firing a clear shot at goal from just inside the offensive zone after Wheeler had found him with an ice-hockey nutmeg. Unfortunately the shot went wide and the score remained 4-1.
The win not only gives the Red Bulls another three crucial championship points but also pushes the team up to 8th in the DEL standings. EHC coach Pat Cortina spoke of "a tough game" because of "Düsseldorf clogging up the neutral zone, taking space and speed away from the EHC team." Happy that his team "stuck with the game plan to work the puck from down low", Cortina added that he's happy with the team's performance. "We were in a similar situation on Friday when we went into the final period with a three-goal lead, but tonight I thought we handled the situation much better."
With Stastny flying home to the United States on December 24th to spend Christmas with his family, Wheeler will stick around for the game in Augsburg on December 26th before also flying home to see his family for a week. Both will be back in action for EHC Red Bull München vs. Adler Mannheim on January 4th, 2013.
With both NHL players absent, it will be a real chance for the rest of the team to show that they are not just a two trick pony when they host Hamburg Freezers on Friday December 28th at 19.30 CET. Make not mistake about it though, Stastny and Wheeler have not only added new impetus to European Ice Hockey, but they've also added confidence and ability to their new teammates and the results have been astounding.