Fife Flyers 2 Manchester Storm 5
Fife Flyers may have beat the weather but their hopes of claiming a runners-up spot in this season's Elite League were dealt a blow last night with a home defeat to Manchester Storm.
The game, which had been in doubt, went ahead in front of a lower crowd than normal due to travel disruption caused by the snow, but the injury-hit Gardiner Conference champions were unable to build on an early two-nil lead as they slipped seven points behind their second-placed opponents.
Flyers, who remain in fourth, still have three to four games in hand on all the teams around them, but with several key players either out or carrying injuries, and a gruelling run of 12 fixtures in 22 days to end the season, making the most of them is going to be a tall order.
Despite starting without key figures Evan Bloodoff, Danick Gauthier, Ian Young and Andy Iles - which meant two-line hockey and back-up goalie Jordan Marr in net - as well as losing Liam Heelis and Carlo Finucci for portions of the third period, this was a game Flyers still could have won.
The short-benched hosts raced into an early two-goal lead, and continued to work hard throughout , but sloppy mistakes and gifted goals in the second period saw a 2-1 lead become a 2-4 deficit, and with numbers dwindling further, they simply did not have enough in the tank to mount a comeback.
Head coach Todd Dutiaume said: "We had a great start, and a misassignment at the net with a few minutes left in the first period resulted in them clawing one back.
"The second period was a definite lull, and we started doing things that are uncharacteristic of ourselves.
"We started taking pucks back in our own zone, over-handling the puck, turning pucks over in the neutral zone - all stuff we didn't do when we are consistently winning games.
"Some of it comes down to mental fatigue but the players have a responsibility to play the right way regardless.
"They're well aware that our errors cost us a number of goals in that second period - then we were chasing the game.
"I thought we had a little bit of pushback in the third period, but by the end, it just wasn't enough."
Both Finucci and Heelis failed to finish the game, but Dutiaume is hopeful both will be able to feature in tonight's trip to Milton Keynes Lightning.
"We seem to be awful plagued by the injury bug right now," he said.
"I think both players will be fine, but ultimately, when you run short,m you start picking up more injuries, which is something we were very fortunate to avoid for most of the season, but it's certainly caught up with us now."
Flyers took the lead after just one minute and 24 seconds as Heelis moved sharply into the Storm zone and after Peter LeBlanc's effort rebounded off the post, Chase Schaber was on hand to fire the rebound past Mike Clemente.
Storm then proceeded to put Fife under sustained pressure until Linden Springer was called for tripping, allowing Fife to regain some ascendancy on the powerplay, which they utilised to open up a two-goal advantage on 8.25.
Jim Jorgensen sent the puck towards net from the point, and it took a deflection off a well-positioned Schaber before trundling into the Storm net.
The visitors hit back in the 14th minute when a blocked shot fell kindly for Ciaran Long and he found the angle to beat Marr and reduce the deficit.
It had been a surprisingly timid start from a Ryan Finnerty side, but Storm upped the physicality in period two, with Fife hitting back as the atmosphere livened up.
But defensive mistakes starting creeping in, and when Flyers failed to pick up one of the league's top marksmen, Mike Hammond made them pay to make it 2-2 on 24.24.
Heelis was having a fine game for Flyers, mixing grit with skill, but Springer wiped him out when in full flight with a raised knee sending the Flyer spinning to the ice.
It looked a borderline major penalty for kneeing, but the referees deemed a two-minute tripping minor sufficient, and Fife were unable to make the powerplay count.
Storm punished them when a speculative shot from down in the corner of the zone from Declan Balmer caught Marr unsighted, with the Fife goalie flapping his arms as the puck flew straight into the middle of his net.
It was a soft one to lose, and Fife lost another poor goal within 90 seconds as Dallas Ehrhardt pounced on more slackness to make it 2-4.
From a commanding position Flyers now had to chase the game - always more difficult when down on bodies - although they did make a decent fist of attempting a comeback in the third period.
There was no throwing in the towel as players fought for everything, but in truth, they looked like a side trying their hardest to overcome the loss of five key men, as Heelis failed to appear for the final 20 minutes.
Fife had chances and the closest they came was a LeBlanc drive which pinged the post a late powerplay, but once Storm were back to full strength for the final two minutes, the game was effectively over.
That was confirmed when Fife pulled Marr only to lose the puck in their own end, and watch helplessly as Hammond stroke home the empty netter.
The current injury plight was summed up when Finucci was named man of the match, but was unable to collect his award as he'd already returned to the dressing room to nurse a knock picked up in the closing minutes.
Fife will need to dig deep to get through this tough period.