Fife Flyers secure play-off place after shoot-out win over Guildford Flames
Fife Flyers 3 Guildford Flames 2 (PS)
Fife Flyers were made to work for the victory over Guildford Flames which has secured their place in the EIHL play-offs.
They had to come from behind twice but battled hard to do so, completing a clean sweep of six wins over Flames in the shoot-out - no mean feat against a very decent outfit.
The Kirkcaldy side are now safely tucked inside the top eight with eyes on securing a possible best-ever fourth place finish in the remaining four fixtures.
The victory was not without a cost as defenceman Scott Aarssen, only recently back from a shoulder injury, was forced off early, leaving Fife to rotate a four-man defence for almost the entire match plus overtime.
"The injury problems we've faced this season are some of the worst we've faced in the EIHL era," said head coach Todd Dutiaume, who is also currently without Evan Stoflet and Chase Schaber.
"Aarssen had to leave the game in his second shift, but I thought our guys at the back end did a wonderful job composing themselves and seeing the game out.
"The guys stayed patient, stuck with it and that's a big result - a huge two points."
A fast-paced, back and forth match may have been a higher scoring affair were it not for two excellent netminding displays from both Shane Owen and Chris Carrozzi.
Flyers were caught cold as Flames took the lead after just 27 seconds through Evan Ritt, but the home side were unfortunate not to get back on level terms in the first period after spurning several chances and odd-man rushes.
A powerplay strike eventually brought the home side level two minutes into the second period as in-form forward Brett Bulmer grabbed his 25th goal of what is turning out to be a prolific first season in the UK.
Guildford restored their lead on the powerplay just three minutes later as Jamie Crooks tipped home a powerful shot from wide, the redirection leaving Owen with no chance.
Flyers struggled to get back into a rhythm for the remainder of the middle session, with a lack of calls in their favour from the officials causing frustration, which was evident as Bulmer and Danick Gauthier both got involved in an altercation with Corbin Baldwin behind the play.
The second interval allowed the home side to regroup and they were firmly back on track for the third period, with pressure steadily building in pursuit of a second equaliser.
Play was stopped however on 46 minutes when an ugly hit from Baldwin sent Mike Cazzola crashing into the boards head first.
Fortunately the Flyer was okay, but with similar recent hits causing serious injury to his team mates, it was no surprise to see chief protector Gauthier immediately step into a fight with the Flames D-man, who was handed for 2+10 for checking from behind.
Both players received five minute majors for fighting, with Gauthier also receiving a 2+10 instigator penalty, an unusual call in the circumstances, which prompted loud boos from the rink, and left the home bench shaking their heads in disbelief.
Flyers got the powerplay they felt they deserved from the Baldwin hit a few minutes later and the Guildford defence eventually cracked, Marcus Basara firing home on the powerplay after good work from Bulmer and Rick Pinkston.
The refereeing became centre of attention again in the closing 10 minutes with a spree of soft calls, including a bizarre holding penalty for Pinkston who dropped his stick then attempted to lift the Flames player who lay on top of it and refused to budge.
James Isaacs was also enraged by a slashing penalty called against him inside the final five minutes, spitting feathers in the direction of Pavel Halas, a referee who seems to infuriate players and fans more than any other.
With almost no even-handed hockey there was no flow to the closing stages and both teams would have been relieved to see it through to overtime.
Flyers dominated the extra period, creating multiple close-in chances but they could not find a way past Carrozzi.
The home side finally found their range in penalty shoot-out, where Cazzola and Gauthier both struck, and with Owen proving impenetrable at the other end, that was enough to keep the two points in Kirkcaldy, a deserved outcome after a strong finish.