Fife Flyers’ Kyle Haines capped off a remarkable 81 seconds in the Kirkcaldy Ice Arena as he netted the winner with 13 ticks of the clock left to take a 2-1 lead along to Renfrew this evening.
Over 3,000 ice hockey fans were present to witness the Clan’s collapse in the last minute and a half in the first leg of the playoff quarter-final tie.
The visitors took the lead through Swede Marcus Gotz on a power play after 19:03. The next 39 minutes remained scoreless. However, Todd Dutiaume’s side kept up the pressure and levelled at 58:39 through Ryan Dingle on a power play. 68 seconds later, defenseman Haines turned the game on its head with the game-winning goal.
At 6pm, the second leg takes place at the Braehead Arena.
Ryan Finnerty is without Brendan Brooks due to a broken arm. However, he will have the services of the returning Rik Jackman. Entering the weekend, Todd Dutiaume knew he had a full strength squad and does so again.
Both teams are looking to return to Nottingham for the final four after missing out last year. In 2014, Braehead and Fife made it to finals weekend but were losing semi-finalists. Although, the west coasters claimed third place with a 7-6 victory over Flyers.
Seven of the eight teams returned to the playoffs this year. The exception being the now defunct Hull Stingrays. Their vacancy was filled by 2015’s worst side, the Dundee Stars.
Braehead Clan and Cardiff Devils switched seedings as have Coventry Blaze and Fife Flyers.
Edinburgh Capitals missed out again as they dropped from ninth to 10th. Newcomers Manchester Storm fell away in the concluding few weeks and finished ninth.
2014/15 winners Coventry will be looking to repeat their post-season win when the action gets underway on Saturday night. Three of the four reverse fixtures will take place on Sunday evening. Belfast Giants v Nottingham Panthers commences on Monday.
In Nottingham, the one-legged semi-finals will be contested on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, the third-place game and the final.
#1 Sheffield Steelers v #8 Coventry Blaze
Sheffield won the regular season title, but they lost six of eight matchups v Coventry. Steelers won the first and last matchup of the campaign.
Both sides split the points at Sheffield Arena. Blaze are unbeaten when coming face-to-face with Paul Thompson’s men at SkyDome. I can foresee the reigning playoff champions “upsetting” the Yorkshire outfit.
#2 Cardiff Devils v #7 Dundee Stars
This matchup pits the best defence against the best offence in the country. Netminder Ben Bows had conceded 139 while the Stars scored 200 in the 52 fixtures.
Both squads earned four points against one another. Although, the Welshman beat out their Scottish rivals in the two-legged Challenge Cup tie.
Steve King has already led his team to a final in the cup this year and I expect him to coach his way out of the first round.
#3 Braehead Clan v #6 Fife Flyers
Braehead is the form side in the division. They have won their last seven fixtures to lift the conference title. On their way to becoming back-to-back Gardiner champions, they bypassed their post-season opponents, Fife.
Todd Dutiaume got the better of compatriot Ryan Finnerty this season winning four out of six meetings.
Although, this is a bad time for Flyers to be playing their Renfrew-based rivals. The Kirkcaldy outfit has lost their final three and momentum is with the west coasters. However, I would not be surprised to see the Clan bow out at this stage.
#4 Nottingham Panthers v #5 Belfast Giants
The two closest matched seeds provide the toughest to call tie of the first round. Belfast and Nottingham had seven encounters. The English outfit won four and lost the final two.
Giants ended on a high with three wins to secure the fourth spot from Panthers. Nottingham had lost their last two and six of their previous 10. Oddly enough this malaise has taken place after the Challenge Cup victory.
Corey Neilson should guide his men into the finals weekend, but only just.
This week’s big winners are Sheffield Steelers as they won the Elite Ice Hockey League’s regular season for the second season in a row. Steelers earned 72 points throughout the campaign, two more than runners-up Cardiff Devils.
The big losers are Edinburgh Capitals who once again lost heavily in both of their games.
On Wednesday, Cardiff made up their game in hand on Sheffield as they maintained pressure upon the Yorkshire outfit with a 4-3 victory against Belfast.
Devils matched the result in Sheffield on Saturday and left Manchester with two points and as Erhardt champions. Unfortunately, for the Welsh side, it was not enough to be crowned champions. This allowed Steelers to run out to a guard of honour in Kirkcaldy on the last day of the season. They finished in style with a 3-1 dispatching of Todd Dutiaume’s squad.
The task was clear for Braehead. Two wins and they would place third in the table heading into the post-season and in the process regain the Gardiner Conference title. Fortunately for them, they were playing an Edinburgh side which had lost 16 straight going into this week and had no hope of finishing higher than last for some time now. Ryan Finnerty’s Clan had enough to get the four points needed and just edged Flyers in the process. As an extra, they have won their last seven and hit form at the exact right time to play Fife in the playoffs that start on Saturday.
The marquee matchup on Friday lived up to its billing with an entertaining eight-goal thriller between Belfast and Fife which Giants edged 5-3. 24 hours later, Flyers failed to regroup and lost 5-1 in Northern Ireland.
Nottingham’s National Ice Centre hosted Panthers’ 5-0 drubbing of Coventry in a game which had little meaning to both sides with their playoff seedings already decided.
Dundee went into the playoffs with a three-game winning streak after a 2-1 at home against Coventry. A day later Chuck Weber’s men bounced back with a 6-2 flourish over Manchester. Blaze will have a challenge when they matchup with Sheffield in the first round of the playoffs.
Blaze lived up to their nickname as they won 6-1, and briefly became the form side in the Elite Ice Hockey League. Taking the mantle from the recently anointed Challenge Cup winning Nottingham Panthers. Coventry was victorious in their last five and moved up to seventh in the rankings.
A day removed from Sheffield’s 4-2 triumph at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre. They brought an end to Coventry’s good form. Paul Thompson’s team dispatched Chuck Weber’s outfit 6-3 at Motorpoint Arena. Steelers remain top of the table after their four-point weekend.
The Englishman was not the only head coach to win both of matchups over the weekend. Braehead, Cardiff, and Dundee held their ground after picking up maximum points.
Braehead Clan’s victories, home and away over Manchester has eliminated Storm from playoff contention. The Renfrew-based unit remains third, five points off the summit.
In their doubleheader, the Dundee Stars netted 23 times against the Edinburgh Capitals. In response, Riley Emmerson’s men could only score four times. Drubbings like these are the reason that they are at the bottom of the EIHL table. Marc Lefebvre will be looking behind him with Coventry in reach. Although, they have assured post-season Ice Hockey due to these results.
Cardiff had two home matches against Belfast. The first being a 5-2 victory while Giants reduced the deficit of defeat to one, a day later.
Flyers could not take advantage of Nottingham’s post cup final hangover. The Scots lost in overtime to Panthers 1-2. If Fife had beaten their opponents, they would have been one spot and a point behind Corey Neilson’s side. Alas, they remain in sixth where they will likely finish.
With just one week remaining before the post-season, here are the penultimate week’s fixtures.
This week’s fixtures
Belfast Giants v Cardiff Devils;
Nottingham Panthers v Coventry Blaze
Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers
Manchester Storm v Cardiff Devils;
Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers;
Braehead Clan v Edinburgh Capitals;
Dundee Stars v Coventry Blaze;
Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers
Coventry Blaze v Manchester Storm;
Edinburgh Capitals v Braehead Clan;
Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers;
Fife Flyers v Sheffield Steelers
Belfast Giants were mounting a late challenge for the title when they beat Fife Flyers on Tuesday. It was their sixth straight league win with goals from Mike Forney, Kris Beech (2) and Mike Radja. Michael Dorr pulled one back to make it, 2-1. But, the Northern Irish outfit was just too much for them on the day.
Their title hopes stalled on Saturday as the Braehead Clan won 2-1 in Belfast. As that was happening, the league-leading Sheffield Steelers inflicted Flyers to successive defeats. It was a much-needed victory for Paul Thompson’s men. They had won and lost four of their last eight regulation matchups.
Nottingham handed Cardiff Devils their third consecutive defeat days before the Challenge Cup final. The Panthers are in form, having won seven of their previous 10 and are still in with a shot of the league title. It is an outside chance.
On Sunday – two days after Nottingham’s 6-1 drubbing of Cardiff – the sides faced off again. This time in the Sheffield Ice Arena, for the cup final. This occasion was a tight, low-scoring affair. Nottingham beat the defending holders in sudden death overtime with an Evan Mosley goal. With that, Corey Neilson’s side are this week’s big winners.
The big losers are the Edinburgh Capitals. The side bottom of the table lost both games this week and are now winless in 15. To add to Riley Emmerson’s woes. The double header with Coventry Blaze ended in an 18-9 loss on aggregate. The first contest being a 12-4 hammering at the SkyDome.
In other results. Manchester Storm fell out of the last playoff spot with an 8-2 drubbing. To make matters worse this was in front of their home support against Todd Dutiaume’s men. Omar Pacha will be confident for his team to bounce back, having won eight of their last 10.
Braehead won again on the road. This time by two goals to one in Dundee as they kept the pressure on the top two with their third straight win. Clan now sits five points from the summit.
All 10 teams will take the ice this weekend in Hockey’s Elite League as the race towards the playoffs heats up.
Last year’s runners-up, the Braehead Clan, were looking comfortable atop of the EHIL. But, they lost four of their previous five. As a result, the Cardiff Devils and the Sheffield Steelers moved above them.
Ryan Finnerty has overseen his side’s slump in which injuries have decimated his bench. The Renfrew outfit are now seven points behind first and have Nottingham catching up on them. Panthers being one point off their tally with a couple of games in hand.
With just over a month left of the season. It is a head-to-head battle between the Devils and the Steelers for the championship. The outcome may be clearer after this weekend’s double header between the pair.
Andrew Lord’s squad are four clear at the top and have hit form at the right time. Picking up eight points from a possible eight. Whereas the Yorkshire side has faltered recently. They have lost five of their previous six, three of them against Coventry Blaze.
At the opposite end of the table, there is optimising for those looking to finish in that final playoff spot.
Manchester Storm is the form team in the division with six wins in a row. Their debut season was fading into nothingness until a couple of weeks ago. Now they are just one point adrift of their West Midlands rivals. However, Chuck Weber’s unit have a few more fixtures to fulfill.
Although, as Blaze’s standing shows they are a team prone to struggling. Sunday highlighted this as they looked exhausted having once again been shutout in Kirkcaldy. Their goaltender, Brian Stewart – who is busy more nights than not – is an injury worry. With this news, it seems to be a perfect storm for the Mancunians to breeze past Coventry.
Edinburgh Capitals cannot finish higher than bottom. However, they can affect playoff seedings with their remaining fixtures.
Fife Flyers Head Coach Todd Duiaume, said on Sunday:
“It’s all about momentum.”
That drive that the Canadian talks of is something that the Fifers have in abundance. They can finish off the campaign as high as fifth and win the Gardiner Conference.
Named after Scottish netminder, Charlie Gardiner. The goalie born in Edinburgh entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945.
In the northern conference, they are top. Four clear of last year’s winners Braehead. In the league, they are one behind Dundee Stars. Although, the Dundonians have completed a few extra fixtures.
Saturday pits east versus west as the Fifers travel to the Braehead Arena. A venue in which Dutiaume has coached to victory earlier in the season. Drawing on that experience will prove pivotal and will have a say in who wins the conference title.