Braehead Clan 2 (3) Fife Flyers 2 (4)
To the wire and beyond.
That was what it took for Fife Flyers to finally overcome Braehead Clan in an epic play-off quarter-final that went all the way to the last 22 seconds of overtime.
After six periods of the most intense hockey you are ever likely to see, the arch-rivals were locked at 3-3 and it all came down to a sudden death four on four session.
A single goal would end the season for one, and book a place in Nottingham and the chance to compete for the final piece of silverware for the other.
The stakes could not have been higher, but Flyers showed remarkable determination and mental strength to put the foot to the pedal one final time, dominating OT until TJ Caig squeezed the puck over the line in the 124th, and final minute of this memorable tie.
The celebrations said it all. The players had left everything on the ice, and had something to show for it.
For Clan, there was only heartbreak. The Glasgow side contributed hugely to the tie, and at times were knocking on the door of Nottingham in this second leg, but Flyers came up with the big shifts when it mattered, both in defence and attack, and deserve their place in the final four.
Afterwards, the Fife players emerged from the away dressing room looking emotionally and physically shattered but clearly ecstatic. Kyle Haines was still on a high from his game-winning goal the previous night!
If Flyers can ride this crest of a wave into Nottingham, then as Todd Dutiaume himself said in his post-match interview: “Watch out for the Flyers!” They could be the team to avoid.
“It’s just a great feeling - and we always believed this team could do it,” Dutes added. “To be able to do that two nights on the trot says a lot about their character, and hopefully that’s built a lot of confidence for the weekend coming up.”
Flyers carried a one-goal lead into the second leg courtesy of two goals in a euphoric two minutes of the first leg in Kirkcaldy and they carried the impetus into a positive start as they spent most of the opening shifts in the Clan zone.
The had the best of the early chances but as he was for most of the night before, Clan netminder Chrois Holt was equal to them.
Even a Clan powerplay couldn’t knock Flyers off their stride as they kept the hosts to the outside, and in doing so kept the big home crowd fairly quiet.
A Flyers goal at this early stage would have been like a knife to the heart of Clan after the previous night, however, one thing you can be sure of in play-offs is shifting momentum and the tide started to turn in Clan’s favour following a breakaway chance on 12 minutes.
Toni Dahlam skated off the Clan bench and sraight onto a pass to go clean through on David Brown, but the Flyers netminder pulled off a big stop to keep his team ahead on aggregate.
Flyers were caught short again a few shifts later with only Kyle Horne against a wave of attackers, but Brown got a vital touch on Meyer’s shot to deflect it onto the post.
Ryan Dingle also struck a post at the other end with a ripper of a wrist shot that looked to have the beating of Holt at his near post as the first period ended goalless.
Flyers would have been more than happy with the start, but Clan lifted their game in period two, and for the first time over the two legs, Flyers were under the cosh.
It was a period of survival for Fife until, eventually, Clan’s relentless pressure paid off on 36.58 as Stefan Meyer capitalised on a rebound to ripple the net and level the tie at 2-2.
A penalty called against Matt Keith during the goal celebrations for knocking over Phil Paquet put Fife straight on the powerplay, but Flyers were clearly rocked by the leveller as they failed to register a single shot on net.
With Braehead Arena bouncing, Clan started the third period with their tails up and only some huge defensive blocks from netminder David Brown and his defenceman kept Clan at bay.
That laid the foundation for Flyers to steady the ship, and after reacquainting Clan netminder Holt with some rubber, the visitors got their noses back in front on 46.57.
A monster shift from Caig saw him drive the puck into the Clan zone, behind the net, and back out in front before lashing a shot into the top corner of the net.
Credit to Clan, they came back again and levelled the tie a minute and a half later with Scott Pitt appearing to get a close range tip past Brown. At this point Flyers fans were fearing the worst.
However, as the clock ticked down with the game on a knife-edge, it started to boil down to the team who had the courage to go for it more - and Flyers had the edge.
They were the ones pushing as the regulation 60 finished, and they continued to go forward in overtime and got their reward with 22 seconds left.
Pinned to the backboards, Stockton got the energy from somewhere to hold off and turn his marker before feeding Caig who tapped home from close range.
The veteran forward has scored goals all over Europe, but few, if any, will have been as important as this one.
The travelling fans erupted, and the team celebrated with them. Kyle Horne even managed a jig.
Nottingham prepare ... the Fifers are coming!