Allan Crow on a dramatic end as Fife Flyers take their bow on home ice
IT ended in disarray, but as far as the hockey was concerned Fife Flyers produced an almost flawless performance to defeat champions Nottingham Panthers 4-2 in the first leg of their play-off quarter-final tie.
They were 4-0 up and cruising after 40 minutes and even the loss of two powerplay goals - the second to a quite atrocious call from the lino - didn’t knock them off their stride.
With a touch of luck, a better bounce here and there, they could have won this game by six or seven, and very, very few teams do that to Nottingham ...
The game ended in chaos with 1:08 as Kriss Hogg spun backwards into the plexi at the curling bar end, causing an entire pane to smash into thousands of pieces.
He was showered with glass but thankfully unhurt, but as a temporary wooden board was put in place, Panthers applauded the fans and departed the scene - not even staying for the traditional MoM awards; a poor show and one greeted with catcalls and jeers from a noisy, fired-up 1700 crowd.
The time remaining will now be played at the start of Sunday’s game, and the champs may be glad of that. Indeed they might even need it in their quest to win by three goals to make the finals weekend.
For Fife Flyers this was near textbook hockey.
They forced error after error out of a Panthers side that simply couldn’t find a way into this game.
Fife won every puck in the neutral zone, turned them over time after time and skated with conviction, purpose and focus, and when Panthers did try to throw some of their weight around they took that in their stride too.
With Bryan Pitton in outstanding form - four or five of his saves were game-changers - and John Dolan producing his own match of the season, Fife overcame the on-ice absence of an injured Todd Dutiaume to set the building alight.
It took them just 1:39 to go-ahead as the dynamic Casey Haines netted on the power play.
It was 2-0 at 10:37 as Derek Keller went coast to coast, drove the net superbly, and although his shot was blocked, Bobby Chaumont followed up to net.
Two minutes later the building erupted in noise as Dolan took the hit to set up Podge Turnbull for a superb finish.
Panthers response was immediate - a time-out to spike Flyers momentum and sort out their own problems.
In the second period they saw more of the puck, but every move they made found a blue jersey, every pass was intercepted by a Fife stick, every scramble around the net turned away.
At 26:06 it was 4-0; again Dolan taking a massive hit on the plexi but still drilling the puck out for Hogg to finish.
How Hogg didn’t net a fifth seconds later goodness knows - Turnbull’s shot came up off the netminder’s shoulder and appeared to land on the line, but Panthers scrambled to safety as the Fife forward swooped.
Fife went into the third as the dominant team only to hit some penalty trouble which did ruffle their focus.
Carriveau’s tripping call at 44:23 looked poor, and when Keller went for delaying the game after firing the puck out the rink, Panthers pounced with Ling firing home five on three at 46:18.
The delay of the game then slapped on Danny Stewart was contentious. Again the puck went out of the rink but it flew the length of the rink. Again the lino called it - no doubts, it was a bad call, and it cost Fife a second goal, this time Benedict drilling the puck home.
The verbal blast Stewart gave the stripeys as he returned to the ice left them in no doubt what he thought of the call.
A rattled Flyers settled down quickly, however, and were sniffing for a deserved fifth goal when the plexi was smashed.
Amid rinkside debates with rink staff, team owners, coaches and captains, Panthers said their farewells prematurely, leaving their MoM award hanging in the air. For the record it went to Brandon Benedict.
For Flyers this was a huge win - one that means they have now defeated every single team in the EIHL on home ice this season.
They actually deserved better than 4-2 - had they won by four or five the champions could not have had any complaints - and the question now is will it be enough to carry them through Sunday’s second leg?
Whatever happens their final bow on home ice was a fitting one.
>> Todd Dutiaume paid tribute to his players for producing a superb final home game against the champions.
‘‘We talked before about believing in ourselves, and we played very, very well,’’ he said.
‘‘I think this was the first time we were not scared to lose a game against Nottingham - I don’t think they were prepared for that. We got off to a great start and we did a good job.’’
>> Derek Keller said the plexi problems and curtailed ending would make no difference to the team on Sunday.
‘‘We’ll play that time tomorrow - it’s not a big deal,’’ he said. ‘‘We will just focus on what we can control.
‘‘We have to do exactly what we did tonight and not focus on the score - it’s 0-0 and there are three periods of hockey to play. We keep playing the same way and do the job we did tonight.’’
>> After all the plexi problems, Fife Flyers dressing-room suffered a power outage after the game.
The room, office and warm dozen zones were all plunged ionto total darkness as players went through their media duties and post-game routines.
Power was eventually restored after ten minutes of stumbling around using mpobile phones as torches!