Fife Flyers’ hopes of finishing third in the league took a hefty knock with this 8-4 defeat at the hands of Belfast Giants last night.
A disastrous 4-0 opening period saw the game run away from them and while the shoot-out which followed was enjoyable enough, the result was already beyond doubt.
They fell behind to the first shot of the game with just 18 seconds on the clock, and struggled badly to get into a first period dominated by a Giants side which moved the puck well and executed their chances with precision.
While Flyers’ performance in periods two and three was much better, they need to find a way of playing for 60 minutes. If they don’t then there is the very real prospect of a slide down the standings and an early exit in the play-offs.
It’s clear the injuries are hurting the team - in mind and body - at the worst possible time, but this is also about how badly Fife want to finish on a high.
Regardless of who’s fit and who isn’t, they have to dig deeper, skate through the exhaustion and compete for three full periods.
Anything less and they are staring at sixth place rather than third, and a daunting bid to get through the quarter-finals.
Switching on and off, and easing almost hesitantly into games at this stage of the season simply isn’t an option.
Giants blasted away at will at back-up netminder Jordan Marr and were 3-0 up within 15 minutes, with Colin Shields bagging the first of his hat-trick while Darcy Murphy skated solo after Russ Moyer fanned on the puck on the point, to gift the Giants’ forward the easiest of short-handed goals.
They’d hoisted that to 5-0 after 21 minutes amid fears of a real rout before Fife found their tempo and made a spirited response.
Charlie Mosey broke the shut out with a shot which rifled in off a pass from Carlo Finucci at 25:27, and the playmaker then turned goalscorer to turn in the flick from LeBlanc whose positional play was key to creating the chance.
Slender hopes of another epic comeback were pretty much snuffed out when Spiro Goulakos made it 7-2 with a shot from the left point, but the period did throw up seven goals in all to at least warm the fans on anotherwise stony, cold Wednesday night.
Liam Heelis put in a smashing shift - something he needs to do more often at this stage of the campaign - chasing down the puck repeatedly before finding LeBlanc front of net for a sweet finish and 7-3.
But that four-goal gap was always a too great to bridge going into the third.
Shields signed off with a hat-trick strike as bodies flew everywhere around the crease, and Danick Gauthier had the final word with a 57th minute strike, but the points were already en route across the Irish Sea.
The teams meet again in Ireland on Saturday.
Flyers need to do much, much more if they are to repair the damage with a road win.