Braehead Clan 3 Fife Flyers 4
Further evidence of Fife Flyers’ growing momentum was on show at Braehead Arena on Sunday night as the Kirkcaldy side claimed a fourth win on the bounce.
For almost two periods, Flyers were simply too strong for the EIHL title hopefuls and deserved their 3-0 lead, albeit against a banged up Clan side missing key players Matt Keith and Scott Pitt, injured the previous night in Nottingham.
However, a lapse in concentration late in the second period allowed Clan to get a goal back, and a lifeline, which they took full advantage of in a spirited third period as they fought back to 3-3.
With 10 minutes still to play, and Clan on the charge, an unthinkable defeat was now on the cards - and it probably would’ve been a few months ago when this Flyers side lacked a strong identity.
But such is the current self-belief among the players that the decisive blow was struck when their backs were pinned against the wall, Paddy Cullen’s crucial winner coming when Clan were at their most rampant.
Flyers then clung onto the lead amidst some intense late pressure to claim both points, and equally important, ensure Clan left with nothing to move six points clear in the Gardiner Conference standings.
Braehead’s seven games in hand still loom large, but Flyers have at least given themselves something to play for when they next visit Glasgow on league duty for the final time on February 20.
Another favourable two point swing in that game, and suddenly anything is possible.
Even if Flyers are eventually overhauled in conference, current form suggests there is now a genuine chance to overhaul Belfast Giants and finish fifth in the overall EIHL standings. An interesting run-in awaits ...
While Clan’s injury troubles meant they had to ice a defencman in attack, Flyers were at full strength, albeit Jeff Lee remained sidelined by injury.
After an impressive intro - Clan fans can now download an app that allows them to use their smart phone as part of an interactive pre-game light show - it was Flyers who lit up proceedings with an opening goal after just one minute.
Danny Stewart was aggrieved to be removed from a face-off, but the linesman’s call ironically worked in his favour as he was positioned perfectly to receive Paddy Cullen’s wonderful reverse pass from behind the net and fire past Chris Holt, who got a glove to the effort but could not keep it out.
With Flyers winning battles in all three zones and Clan struggling to sustain any pressure, the usually noisy Clan crowd were kept quiet for much of the opening period.
The Gunn-Stewart-Cullen line was looking particularly dangerous for Flyers and only a big double save from Holt prevented the trio from combining to double Flyers lead before the first intermission.
Clan looked to pick up the pace early in P2 and David Brown did well to stop a redirect from Alex Leavitt, before Brendan Brooks slid a shot onto the outside of the post.
Clan momentum was building until Nathan McIver was assessed a 2+10 checking to the head penalty for ramming Tommy Muir into the plexiglass behind the Fife net.
It was an unpopular call from referee Rab Cowan among the home support, but the contact did appear high.
On the resultant powerplay, Flyers were able to pull Clan apart to open up space for Haines to fire a precision slapshot past Holt to make it 2-0 to Fife.
And it was soon 3-0 as Clan were unable to clear after a Fife attack initially broke down, and TJ Caig provided a cool finish at the back post after being set up by Nico Sacchetti.
Flyers were then denied what looked to be a certain fourth as Holt made an outstanding save to deny the inrushing Michael Dorr at the back door.
A big save at one end was followed by a weak concession at the other as Flyers gifted Clan a route back into the match in the final minute of the period.
Matt Delahey needlessly iced the puck to give Clan an attacking face-off, then Brown failed to stop Jamie Fritsch’s hopeful shot from the point which went straight through the five-hole.
A sloppy goal to lose, but one which changed the complexion of the third period, particularly with Clan starting with 1.51 of powerplay.
Things looked steady for Flyers as they managed to kill the penalty, and even passed up a huge short-handed chance as Ryan Dingle and Sacchetti broke for a two-man breakaway.
Sacchetti was blatantly tripped to leave Dingle on his own and Holt made the save. Ref Cowan’s failure to spot the trip on Sacchetti left Flyers incensed.
Clan lost another player on a 2+10 checking to the head penalty after an altercation off the puck between Brooks and Phil Paquet saw the Clan man swing a punch at his opponent’s head while still holding his stick - a dangerous act which sent Paquet spinning backwards onto the ice.
Flyers were unable to make the powerplay count, and Clan punished them on 47.47 with a powerplay effort of their own as Michael Dorr sat out for tripping.
A shot from the point was saved by Brown and as the puck became tangled among skates in the goal mouth, Leavitt pounced to poke it over the line.
There was a slight delay to clear blood on the ice as a wayword shot struck Matt Haywood in the face, fracturing his jaw, but despite disarray in their line-up, Clan found the equaliser on 50.09.
This time there was misfortune for netminder Brown who saved Fritsch’s effort but the puck bounced off the chest of Delahey and rebounded into the net.
All the action was now taking place in the Fife zone as Clan picked up the scent of an unlikely victory but in a rare third period foray across enemy lines the Flyers produced the winning move.
Stewart cut in from the wing to fire a hopeful shot towards goal and the slightest tip from the alert Cullen deflected it into the top corner past a stunned Holt.
Flyers came close to settling matters once and for all when a Justin Fox effort struck the face-mask of Holt, who knew little about it, but as the game entered the closing stages, Clan upped the pressure.
Netminder Holt was withdrawn for the final minute and a half, which was spent almost entirely in the Fife zone.
At times it seemed certain that the puck was heading into the Fife net, but Brown somehow managed to get the puck safely into his pads.
Time eventually ran out, leaving Flyers to celebrate one of their biggest wins of the season - and only their second ever regulation win in Braehead Arena.
A season that has struggled to catch fire is now threatening to truly ignite - could Flyers be play-off dark horses?
The upcoming weekend double-header against Coventry Blaze - a team that has had its own ups and downs - will tell us a lot.