Challenge Cup: Fife Flyers 2 Cardiff Devils 3 (10-5 aggregate)
Chasing a 7-3 deficit from the first leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, they got their dream start and then let it fritter away, losing the game 3-2 and the tie 10-5 on aggregate.
The harsh reality is Fife never looked like winning. For all they skated well and worked hard, they lacked a killer finish - a summary of their season in 60 minutes of hockey.
When Bobby Chaumont netted as he went flying across the crease in 28 seconds flat, the fans rightly anticipated the foundations were in place for a real go at a struggling Cardiff side that has shipped goals of late. A team here to be beaten.
The pressure that followed was good but it was contained. No-one threw a check, no-one knocked a defenceman out of his stride, and no-one delivered that direct touch in front of the net. Oh for a hard-nosed sniper to turn endeavour into goals, wins and points.
There were some good shifts from the third line, while Matt Reber and Derek Roehl were as industrious as ever, but the chances created withered once more.
Just five minutes into the game and Devils’ bus legs vanished and they came to life - Blair Daly making a huge save at 7:10 to deny Luke Piggott as he swept in untracked by a less than attentive defence. It was a warning sign Fife ignored.
They finished the period strongly, but without really making netminder Phil Cook or his blueliner sentries sweat. At times it was like watching a pre-season friendly, and when a cup semi-final is at place that simply isn’t acceptable.
Sure, it was end to end, penalty free stuff, but Fife went in with just one goal to show from a period they needed to blow apart rather than just crack gently open.
The second period got off to the worst possible start as Devils netted twice within 60 seconds; two goals from the same line of forwards - Mark Faulkner at 22:47 and Tomas Kurka at 23:32.
Chaumont had Fife back to level pegging by the half hour, but by then there were playing off the cuff and all doing their own thing with no impact at all.
Into the final period and clearly it was all or nothing.
With ten minutes to go and Marsh off for slashing, Flyers pulled Daly for a six on four powerplay. The closest anyone came to a goal was when Jordan Fulton took his eye off the puck on Devils’ blue line and Chris Blight rolled it down the ice only to strike the right hand post of an empty net.
At 53:49 Daly was pulled again, and sat for fully three and half minutes on the bench as Fife committed six players to Devils zone. It was just a guddle of hit and hope, and desperate measures to keep the puck alive and in their possession.
‘We talked before the game about pulling Daly if we needed to, and doing it around the ten minutes left mark,’’ said Dutiaume. ‘‘We had a six on four but didn’t look threatening and that was down to offence generation.’’
Inevitably, the gamble backfired as Chris Jones carried the puck into the empty net for 3-2 at 53:49. Game over. The tie had long since been lost.
‘‘Initial impressions?’’ asked head coach Todd Dutiaume aloud in his post-game media briefing. ‘‘Two teams playing the game out and not wanting it bad enough.’’
And that’s a pretty damning indictment on a team which got the perfect start and then played the rest of the night within its comfort zone.