Gutsy win ensures Panthers fail to spoil Flyers trophy night

Fife Flyers with the Gardiner Conference trophy. Pic: Steve Gunn
Fife Flyers with the Gardiner Conference trophy. Pic: Steve Gunn

Fife Flyers 5 Nottingham Panthers 4 (PS)

Just when you think Fife Flyers have produced their gutsiest win of the season, they go and outdo themselves once again.

On the night where the Kirkcaldy side were presented with the Gardiner Conference trophy, they delivered a performance of champions as they overcame a crippling injury list to claim a penalty shots victory over a physical Nottingham Panthers side.

Having lost the two previous meetings between the sides this season, Nottingham arrived in Kirkcaldy with a clear plan to spoil Fife's party by whatever means necessary, even if that included dirty tactics, and the risk of inflicting injury on the opposing players.

Three Flyers players were downed in period one with Charlie Mosey, Danick Gauthier and Dan Correale all hurt after being targeted for questionable hits. All of them failed to reappear for period two, although Mosey handed his side a boost by returning for period three.

It was an approach that cost Panthers a player, Yann Sauve ejected on a five plus game misconduct for a brutal check from behind on Danick Gauthier, an offence which has this morning earned him a two-match ban from DOPs.

A 2+10 penalty for boarding was also handed out to Tim Billingsley for the check from behind that ended Correale's night, while the hit on Mosey went unpunished.

With Ian Young and Even Bloodoff not icing due to injury, Flyers were certainly down to the bare bones, although the return of captain Russ Moyer was a timely boost.

That Flyers overcame all this adversity, and a heavy shot count, to defeat a team with as much depth as Nottingham, only underlines what we already know about this team's character and resilience.

The victory, and the manner of it, only added to the post-match celebrations as the team lifted its first trophy of the EIHL era, leaving head coach Todd Dutiaume beaming with pride.

"We knew what we'd accomplished last Sunday, and it was a very satisfying feeling, but to bring it home in front of your home crowd, and for it to be as busy as it was, was special," he said.

"That was a really gutsy performance by the guys. We picked up a number of injuries early but the guys dug deep and I don't think they let their supporters down tonight, that's for sure.

"We've craved success for a long time and it's something we've worked on for a long time.

"Hopefully this is just the beginning."

Every Flyer played out of his skin, but Carlo Finucci in particular had the game of his life, scoring an outstanding hat-trick and logging up incredible minutes, while netminder Andy Iles again showed his quality with a string of superb saves to help his team hang on during swathes of Panthers pressure.

Fife picked up where they left off at Dundee Ice Arena last week with a high tempo start leading to the opener on 3.09.

Finucci made his move between two static defencemen, before slipping the puck through the five-hole of Michael Garnett for lift off at FIA.

The puck went through the net and out the back but there was no doubting that it was in, and after a brief review, the referees correctly awarded the goal.

Panthers hit back in the sixth minute with Dan Spang's effort finding a way past Iles via a deflection, but a five-on-three powerplay following Billingsley's hit on Correale gave Fife a chance to retake the lead, which they took just 10 seconds to punish.

Ricard Birzins caught his slapshot sweetly and the puck fizzed past Garnett for 2-1.

By this time Fife had lost Mosey and Correale to injury, and Gauthier joined them when Sauve impaled him into the boards from behind. The Panthers D-man was thrown out, and although Gauthier bravely tried to continue, his night was over.

Flyers now had a lengthy powerplay to try and extend their lead but with a whole line of imports gone, and the powerplay unit in disarray, they struggled to get moves set up and Panthers punished them with a short-handed equaliser from Evan Mosey.

Flyers returned to the dressing room to lick their first period wounds, and reemerged with just five import forwards, which meant occasional shifts for Chad Smith and Josh Scoon, and both played their part in this victory.

When Panthers made the one-way traffic count, taking a 3-2 lead through Brett Perlini on 27.20, it was difficult to see a way back for Fife's skeleton squad, but they hung in long enough to get themselves back into the game in the final minute of period two.

Great work from Chase Schaber and Shayne Stockton set up Finucci for the type of chance he just doesn't miss, and he duly converted at the back post for 3-3.

It was a vital equalising goal which gave Flyers something to fight for in the third period, and after surviving almost constant Panthers pressure, the home side took the lead with Finucci completing his hat-trick with another sharp finish in front of the net.

Panthers were stunned, but try as they might they could not break through Fife's patchwork team. That was until they withdrew the netminder for one final assault, and they made the extra skater count with a last gasp equaliser from Mike Vaskivuo.

Any thoughts that this would deflate Fife were blown away in overtime as they held their own, with Finucci finding the energy from somewhere to go on a coast-to-coast attempt that was only foiled by a last-ditch save.

The game went to penalty shots where Flyers again held their nerve, with Iles coming up with the big saves which allowed Peter LeBlanc to score the winner, and ensure a party atmosphere for the Gardiner Conference trophy presentation which followed.

Whether Fife have anything left in the tank for the trip to Sheffield Steelers today remains to be seen, but only a fool would write them off.