STAMFORD -- It's not easy walking in the shoes -- or in this case the ice skates -- of a champion.

There was the Darien High school girls ice hockey team at the FCIAC Championship game on Saturday at Terry Conners Ice Rink.

The Blue Wave was trying to tie a ribbon on an undefeated FCIAC season. They were also attempting to secure their third consecutive FCIAC Girls Ice Hockey title.

"There's lots of pressure being the favorite. An undefeated FCIAC season and a third title is a lot," said Darien senior tri-captain Sammy Nielsen. "We were definitely feeling the pressure. Ultimately, we took a deep breath before the third period. We had to get back to playing the way we know how to play."

The high anxiety in the Darien cheering section finally subsided when the Blue Wave scored three times in the final 5:58 to conquer a stubborn Ridgefield High squad, 3-1.

The third time did not appear to be the charm for Darien (18-3 overall, 16-0 FCIAC) early on. Ridgefield freshman Rebecca Taylor put home a rebound of a Maeve Reilly shot with 7:35 left in the second period to give the Tigers a 1-0 edge.

It stayed 1-0 until Nielsen, one of Darien's captains, scored off a backhand with 5:58 left to go for a 1-1 tie. Marissa Baker assisted.

"Drive to the net. That was the only thing on my mind," said Nielsen, voted the game's Most Valuable Player. "The tying goal was the turning point."

Ridgefield was called for a tripping penalty with 3:48 left and Darien junior forward Schuyler van den Broek scored the power-play goal off a rebound of an Amanda Sload shot with 3:06 to go for a 2-1 Blue Wave edge. Julia Arrix scored with 1.5 seconds left for 3-1.

"The puck was right there," van den Broek said. "Amanda (Sload) did the hard work on the initial shot. Once Sammy (Nielsen) tied it, we all relaxed. It's so hard beating a team three times in a season."

Ridgefield (14-8) gave Darien all it had Saturday even though the Tigers had lost twice to the Blue Wave in the regular season.

Ridgefield was physical as the officials let the teams play to decide a champion. Ridgefield was tenacious in keeping the Darien defense from joining the offensive attack -- except on the game-winning goal.

Ridgefield's sophomore goalie Michaela Gleeson was sharp while registering 23 saves in net.

"Our girls played great. They played as hard as they could," Ridgefield coach Lauren Lubrano said. "I'm so proud of their effort. Darien's depth showed up late. They had an extra spark down the stretch. Michaela (Gleeson) was big. She kept us in it a long time. The game slipped away on a powerplay goal."

Ironically, seventh-seeded Ridgefield will face No. 2 Darien in Monday's State Tournament quarterfinals at 6 p.m. at Darien Ice rink.

Darien sophomore goalie Emily Gianunzio (11 saves) played critical role in keeping the Blue Wave's title hopes alive.

"Our group of (eight) seniors didn't want the FCIAC Championship to end any way except like this," Nielsen said. "Being champions again is such a great feeling."

It was a victory that tested the patience of Darien coach Jamie Tropsa.

"Ridgefield played a great game. They made us work so hard. But our girls found a way," Tropsa said. "I think this is the hardest working group I've ever had at Darien. They don't know how to give anything but 100 percent. We needed our best to win another title. We didn't have much cohesion in the opening two periods. But once we tied it, our whole mojo changed."

Darien 3, Ridgefield 1

RIDGEFIELD 0 1 0 --1

DARIEN 0 0 3 --3

At Terry Conners rink.

Records: Ridgefield 14-8 overall; Darien 18-3 overall; 16-0 FCIAC

Goals: R -- Rebecca Taylor. D -- Sammy Nielsen, Schuyler van den Broek, Julia Arrix. Assists: R -- Maeve Reilly. D -- Marissa Baker, Amanda Sload. Goalies: R -- Michaela Gleeson (23 saves). D -- Emily Gianunzio (11 saves).

Highlights: Ridgefield meets Darien in State Tournament quarterfinals Monday 6 p.m. at Darien Ice rink.