Fife Flyers stay on course for play-offs with victory over MK Lightning
Fife Flyers 5 Milton Keynes Lightning 2
Fife Flyers strengthened their position within the play-off places with an essential victory at home to bottom club Milton Keynes Lightning.
With no other teams in Friday night action, the two points took Flyers up to sixth in the table, above Sheffield Steelers, but more importantly, opened up a six point cushion to the danger zone.
Six points from the last eight is a good return for a team nursing several injuries, and has put the season back on an even-keel after a recent tumble down the standings.
The victory, while deserved, was far from comfortable, with Todd Dutiaume admitting his team struggled at times with MK's style of play, but he was happy enough with the performance.
"It was always going to be a dangerous game, but we played well again, certainly at times," he said.
"It's tough, when teams want to run and gun, for guys to stay engaged and do the right things.
"We saw along the walls a little bit of sloppy puck management, not being committed, with a bit of swinging going on.
"When your opponents are doing that it's easy to fall into that trap.
"But we did enough to win the game, and stuck with the programme for the most part."
For the second match running, Brett Bulmer was voted man of the match, with the ex-NHLer bagging two goals to take his season's tally to 22.
That his consistent run of form has mirrored Flyers upturn in fortunes is no coincidence, according to Dutiaume.
"When Brett is skating like that we're a completely different team," he said.
None of the injured players returned so Fife once again started 12 imports against an MK side who are also running short-handed.
Flyers took a 1-0 lead into the first break courtesy of Bulmer's opener, which took a fortunate bounce to deceive netminder Patrick Killeen.
The other talking point from the first period was a Danick Gauthier hit on Martin Mazanec that left the MK defenceman motionless on the ice for a period of time, with the doctor called to the ice, but after a miraculous recovery he was on the ice for the next shift.
Flyers were the team with most of the concerted pressure but MK certainly had their sporadic chances.
The visitors eventually made one count in P2 with a powerplay equaliser on 21.16 from Robbie Baillargeon, but that provoked Fife into an immediate response, as Mike Cazzola restored the lead little more than a minute later, tipping home Ricards Birzins' pass.
Referee Blake Copeland took centre stage with a verbal spat with Fife head coach Dutiaume which was shortly followed by a soft slashing call against Cazzola, coupled with a bench penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Flyers had a full five-on-three to defend.
The penalty killers excelled, as did Killeen at the other end, as Fife took a 2-1 lead into the final period.
Flyers were struggling to put the game to bed but a gifted goal from the MK defence looked to have given them the cushion they needed to see it out as a misplaced pass left Gauthier with an empty net tap-in for 3-1.
However, MK hit back, again on the powerplay, as Carlo Finucci was robbed of the puck and Baillargeon fired home his second of the night on 49.20.
As it did earlier in the game, the MK goal spurred Fife to up the intensity and a couple of late goals ensured no nervy finish.
Cazzola was the architect of goal number four, winning the puck in the neutral zone before motoring over the blue line to set up Bulmer, who stepped past his marker and backhanded past Killeen.
Evan Bloodoff was fortunate to avoid injury as he was clattered into the boards by MK defenceman James Griffin, who was served a 2+10 for checking from behind.
And it was game, set and match on the subsequent powerplay as Joe Basaraba pounced on a loose puck at the net to complete the scoring at 5-2 for the home side.
Flyers now have Saturday off, before travelling to Nottingham on Sunday with fourth-placed Panthers firmly within their sights.