Watching Fife Flyers stalk the play-offs is a bit like watching a tightrope walker as he moves towards his end point.
Neither has a margin for error. Neither has a safety net.
And yet, they remain calm under the most intense pressure as they plan each step with a clear focus.
Fife Flyers have become so accustomed to life on their own play-off tightrope they show no outwards signs of fear or concern.
Every Saturday and Sunday they find ways to keep winning no matter the opposition, regardless of the scoreboard or the clock that ticks down to zero every game night.
They are so deeply embedded in the zone that even the thought of sudden death penalties doesn’t raise their blood pressure more than a point or two.
Into the second round of the shoot-out and step up Ned Luckacevic who seemed to wander deep into the wings as if he was mulling overe his options, and yet he was in total control; sizing up the imposing Dan Bakala and shooting the puck home for a 4-3 win that kept Fife’s play-off campaign bang on target. You won’t see a more individual or perfectly crafted penalty shot this season ...
It was the perfect finishing touch to a free-flowing game of hockey which, two months ago, would probably have delivered a very different outcome.
‘‘The guys were calmer than me,’’ said head coach Todd Dutiaume of the shoot out. ‘‘I was pretty nervous!’’
But he also revealed the team’s Friday practice sessions one on one with netminder Kevin Regan - who came up big again - were key to letting the guys go into the showdown with absolute confidence.
‘‘The guys just stayed confident - they had total belief in Kevin because they test him every Friday. We go through penalty shots every week to see who’s hot, who is feeling good, and we see how good Kevin is at dealing with them. It’s a great habit to develop.’’
Regan was one of the stand out performers against a Stars side that iced minus a couple of imports but still went into the game as conference champions and on a good run of form.
Flyers bossed them completely in the opening period, and somehow ended up going in 1-0 down even before Stars had formally logged a shot on goal - their opener from Jeff Hutchins at 3:08 was just bizarre. His shot cannoned off Danny Stewart, the puck flew away at a freak angle, and then cannoned off Tim Hartung and into the net with Regan hurtling in the opposite direction.
Flyers created a good half dozen chances as Jordan Fulton annoyed the life out of the defence, and Matt Reber skated relentlessly, with Hartung finding time and space across the ice pad - his ability to be in the right place at the right time is a huge part of this team’s drive - but they found Dan Bakala equal to all 19 shots that came his way.
Hartung had Flyers level at 29:35 before a double powerplay - Stars taking two minors at once - was fully exploited by the PP unit; Ned Luckacevic scoring with assists to Reber and Haines at 39:01.
Back came Stars early in the third with two goals inside two minutes - Hutchins at 44:55 and Saachetti at 46:51 - as this game saimply went for long spells with no interruptions courtesy of a relaxed handling by referee Neil Wilson.
The ebb and flow continued through each shift, and it took a combination of hard work and clinical finishing to tie the game at 49:07.
Jordan Fulton carried the puck, pushed it slightly too far ahead of himself and took the hit in the defensive zone. Bobby Chaumont was first to pounce, and his thundering shot gave Bakala no chance.
Tied after 60 minutes, overtime was a cagey affair with neither side really committing for the winner, and, in many ways, penalty shots were Fife’s ace card.
Hartung scored with the first strike, but Bagron and Isaacs for Stars, and Luckacevic all missed before Saachetti tied it at 1-1.
In round two, Hartrung and Bagron both missed, Luckacevic then delivered, and when Regan saved from Kashirsky, it sealed another remarkable win that takes this season right to the closing weekend.
‘‘Wow... and the train keeps a rollin’...’’ tweeted Matt Nickerson.
Next stop, Braehead...