GREENWICH — The Greenwich High School girls ice hockey team entered its season hoping to become one of the teams to beat in the FCIAC and state by defeating the teams it lost to last winter.

So far, so good for the much-improved Cardinals.

Greenwich continued its impressive start to the season, beating a rival that’s had its number the past several seasons — three-time defending FCIAC champion Darien.

Playing with a lead the majority of the game, Greenwich registered a long-awaited 3-1 victory over Darien in an FCIAC matchup at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink. The win marked the Cardinals’ first triumph against Darien since it posted a 5-1 victory over the Blue Wave on Feb. 11, 2012.

“There are always games that you circle on your calendar — the rivalries in the FCIAC are special,” GHS coach Alex Lerchen said. “We were geared up for this one and our team showed it.”

Receiving goals from Emily Bello, Hayley Duffy and Paige Finneran and 18 saves from goalie Jessica Ware, the Cardinals improved to 3-1-2 overall and 3-0 in the FCIAC.

“That was one of our hardest-working games,” Cardinals senior forward Riley Ellsworth said. “Darien is a great team, so we knew we had to work together, move the puck and outskate them.”

The Blue Wave (2-3, 1-1 FCIAC) got a third-period goal from senior forward Cassidy Schiff.

“Greenwich outworked us tonight and got a well-deserved victory,” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said. “They have some good players, who are doing a good job for their team and coach Lerchen has done a great job with them.”

After killing two Darien power plays, Greenwich capitalized on its first power-play chance with 2:11 remaining in the opening period. Sophomore forward Jennifer Kelly snapped a shot on goal from between the circles and freshman Bello, who was screening Blue Wave senior goalie Emily Gianunzio (12 saves), tipped the puck inside the right post off the rebound, making it 1-0.

“Getting the lead was huge,” Kelly said. “Anytime you get down a goal, you get down on yourself. We knew we couldn’t let them get the first goal and we knew we had to keep our momentum.”

Behind Schiff, junior forward Corinne Bevill and sophomore center Shea van den Broek, Darien pressured the Cards in their zone early in the first period. But Ware and Greenwich’s defenders were up to the task. Ware stopped two shots during Darien’s first power play and several more when the visitors were on their second.

“The first period we had some good opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on,” Tropsa said. “We had a lot of power plays, but we didn’t do much with them, so we didn’t build confidence early on.”

Said Ware: “Our defenders were terrific. They knocked down all the passes I didn’t get and they were good at being able to clear the puck. They played really well in front of me.”

Following a scoreless second period, the home team took a two-goal edge with 8:13 left in the third period. Several seconds after killing a Blue Wave power play, Duffy, a sophomore forward, converted a shot from the left faceoff circle, putting Greenwich ahead 2-0.

“It’s always great to get that first goal and maintain the lead, instead of chasing,” Lerchen said. “We knew Darien was going to keep coming after that first goal.”

On a power play after a GHS checking penalty, the Blue Wave closed to within 2-1 when Schiff put a slap shot past Ware from the left wing off a feed from junior Kathleen Tropsa with 5:03 to go in the final period.

“That definitely gave us some jump in our step,” coach Tropsa said. “We had a couple of chances after that, but hats off to Greenwich. They have a nice team and they should continue having a good season.”

Ware made several key saves in the closing minutes for the Cards, who sealed the win with an empty-netter from Finneran with 47.7 seconds remaining. Junior defender Jennie Piotrzkowski set her up for the tally.

“Everyone has been pushing each other and supporting each other,” Piotrzkowski said. “To get this result against great competition shows how far we’ve come as a team.”

Said Ellsworth: “We definitely feel like we can beat anyone now.”

david.fierro@scni.com; 203-625-4423

GREENWICH 3, DARIEN 1

DARIEN 0 0 1 — 1

GREENWICH 1 0 2 — 3

Goals: D — Cassidy Schiff; G — Emily Bello, Hayley Duffy, Paige Finneran; Assists: D — Kathleen Tropsa; G — Jennifer Kelly, Jennie Piotrzkowski; Goalies: G — Jessica Ware (18 saves); D — Emily Gianunzio (12 saves).

Records: Greenwich 3-1-2; Darien 2-3.