Challenge Cup: Fife Flyers 3 Belfast Giants 3

Fife Flyers v Belfast Giants, Challenge Cup QF first leg (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)
Fife Flyers v Belfast Giants, Challenge Cup QF first leg (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)

All square after one leg, all to play for in the return.

Fife Flyers and Belfast Giants meet again in early January to decide who will make the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup after this first leg tie ended in stalemate at 3-3.

Penalty problems for Belfast Giants against Fife Flyers, Challenge Cup QF first leg (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)

Penalty problems for Belfast Giants against Fife Flyers, Challenge Cup QF first leg (Pic: Jillian McFarlane)

Flyers had to dig deep to stick with a Belfast side that started with real intent and carved out an early 3-1.

The opening period saw the visitors push Fife deep into their own zone and create some excellent chances, and they could easily have gone in with a bigger margin.

If Fife hung on for chunks of the first period, the second saw them find some tempo and take their chances to square the game as Giants adopted a lazy approach to discipline which saw them pick up some pointless minor penalties.

On more than one occasion a player was binned on a double minor, there was plenty of belly-aching, and a few sticks slammed into the boards in anger at referee Pavel Halas who was happy to ensure the sin bin seats were the warmest in the house on a cold December night.

But Fife didn’t fully punish Giants’ indiscipline – they were two for 12 on the powerplay as the specialist unit stuttered on a night when it could have made a significant difference.

But credit to the team for digging deep, taking the second period, and pushing for the winner in the third as Giants seemed happy to settle for a tied game.

That was in stark contrast to how they opened this game, playing with real intent and, at five on five, they looked incredibly dangerous.

Giants went ahead as David Rutherford netted at full stretch on the powerplay, and, just 20 seconds later it was 2-0 on a delayed penalty as Colin Shields tipped home a shot.

Flyers steadied the ship after 13 minutes with a disputed goal as Evan Bloodoff netted off a good play by Liam Heelis – Giants were adamant the goals were off their moorings, and the debate continued at the end of the period.

Giants restored their two-goal cushion at 16:22. The puck was loose around the net and they simply wanted it more than Fife – Darcy Murphy shooting past netminder, Andy Iles.

If Giants bossed the opening period, then Fife had momentum in the second, and they grabbed a lifeline goal for 3-2 at 21:36 as Carlo Finucci drilled the puck home on the powerplay.

This game really came alive after 26 minutes when Dannick Gauthier – one of a clutch of Fife players who worked hard across the 60 minutes – whipped the puck home after Chase Schaber had been crowded out.

The third period was goal-less despite some great chances and powerplay opportunities.

Fife now have to win in Belfast is they are to make the semi-finals for the very first time.

And on the road is where they haver produced some of their very best performances ...