Fife Flyers 2 Sheffield Steelers 4
The tie may not be completely dead, but Fife Flyers have left themselves an awful lot to do to reach the Challenge Cup semi-finals for the first time.
The 4-2 defeat in Tuesday’s quarter-final first leg at Fife Ice Arena has left the Kirkcaldy side with a mountain to climb in the second leg in Sheffield next Wednesday.
Not only will they have to beat Steelers in their own rink - they will need to score three more than them. A tall order given the strength and depth of Paul Thompson’s side.
Flyers will take small encouragement from the 32-23 shot count in their favour, but for Sheffield it was a case of quality over quantity as they looked the more dangerous unit, and buried their chances.
Todd Dutiaume’s men struggled to match Sheffield’s speed and precision passing in the opening plays - they were second to a lot of pucks and struggling to relieve pressure - so it was no great surprise when the visitors took the lead after 7.06.
David Brown made a sprawling save and although the defence looked favourites to reach the loose puck, Guillaume Desbiens somehow got there first to poke it into the empty net.
Steelers had set the early tempo and Flyers got up to speed by the middle of the opening stanza. With 12.30 gone Shayne Stockton stepped onto a loose Sheffield pass to draw a good save from Marek Pinc.
Stockton was then wiped out by a high Zack Fitzgerald hit in the Steelers zone but ref Toby Craig had the best view and deemed it a clean check.
Flyers had a great chance to get back into the game early in period two when handed a full five-on-three powerplay as Sheffield lost both Jeff Legue (slashing) and Mathieu Roy (unsportsmanlike conduct) to minor penalties at 22.20.
However, great defence from short-handed Sheffield, combined with Flyers inability to move the puck quickly or crisply enough, meant a big chance was lost.
As often happens, a big kill at one end was followed by a big goal at the other as a stunning strike from Roy almost knocked the net off as Flyers were punished for the poor powerplay.
However, a moment of brilliant anticipation from Michael Dorr gave Flyers a route back into the match as he jumped on the puck as it broke from a face-off in Steelers zone to crack an instant low shot past Pinc on 29.95.
Errors were creeping into Steelers game and a big mix-up in defence was punished on 31.18 as Stephen Gunn latched onto a wayward clearance to fire past Pinc with a sublime finish.
Steelers responded to the double set-back by hemming Flyers into their own zone for a sustained period, but despite being unable to clear their blue line, Flyers survived the pressure.
An entertaining second period then saw the hosts back on the offensive and Gunn’s persistence created a huge chance for Dorr, who had just Pinc to beat, but he ended up skating behind the net and the opening was lost.
Only an amazing save from Pinc prevented Nico Sacchetti scoring as his deft touch from a Ryan Dingle pass sent the puck beyond the netminder and trickling towards the net only for an arm to reach back and glove the puck on line.
Flyers had another chance to get their noses in front at the start of P3 on a three-on-two breakaway but after swapping passes with Dingle, Fox somehow failed to convert.
Fife lost defenceman Phil Paquet for the third period and his absence was certainly felt as Steelers struck twice in a minute to resote their two-goal lead, and send Flyers back to square one.
Legue was afforded to much space in the slot and he fired through Brown’s five-hole on 45.01, before Flyers defence disintegrated again 57 seconds later as Levi Nelson was left alone in front to fire into the roof of the basket.
It’s only half-time in the tie but Flyers need a good start in Sheffield next week, or it’s over.
Period scores: 0-1. 2-1, 0-2
Flyers scoring: Gunn (1+1) Dorr (0+1).
Steelers scoring: Legue (1+1) Roy, Nelson, Dembiens (1+0) O’Conner, Dowd, Coyle, Mosienko, Vestbers (0+1).
SOGs: Fife (Brown) 23; Sheffield (Pinc) 32.