Edinburgh Capitals secured their first win in three games, bouncing back from consecutive Gardiner Conference defeats, to deservedly beat Coventry Blaze 4-1 at Murrayfield Ice Rink in their first cross-conference league game of the season.
Both sides came into this one off the back of some shaky form with Edinburgh returning north from Manchester on Saturday night empty handed following a 4-2 loss, while Coventry were well beaten by Belfast Giants 4-1.
The Capitals came into the game without defenceman Jaroslav Hertl and they would lose forward Ian Schultz in this one with the Canadian leaving the game during the first period with an unspecified injury, and he did not return.
It has been well documented that Edinburgh have had a tendency to start games rather slowly but that was no such problem in this one as they came out of the traps with a spring in their step as they looked to round off the weekend with two points.
Pavel Vorobyev created a chance of his own making after robbing Kevin Noble of the puck deep in the Blaze defensive zone and, after Rihards Grigors’ shot from the blueline was deflected, the Capitals should have been one to the good when Karol Hromas’ square pass somehow wasn’t tucked home at the back door.
A succession of chances would come and go for the hosts with Jared Staal instigating a break before teeing up captain Jacob Johnston for a quick effort which Brian Stewart could only fumble back out in his crease, but the Blaze would survive.
Coventry’s first real openings had Russell Cowley at the heart of them. First Cowley did well to feed Marc Cantin for an effort which Travis Fullerton plucked out of the air with a glove save and then Cowley pounced to turn over the puck deep in Capitals’ territory, with Garrett Klotz’s effort well saved.
Soon afterwards the relentless tempo would see the Capitals back on the front foot with Vorobyev and Yevgeni Fyodorov combining well, and the latter’s shot from the point tested Stewart’s reflexes in the Blaze goal.
A bobbling puck up the other end threatened to cause problems for Edinburgh as it whistled past Fullerton’s post, and the warning signs were certainly there when Liam Stewart was nearly rewarded for his persistence with Matt Selby’s ensuing strike creeping wide.
But Edinburgh were displaying a strong forecheck as the Blaze struggled to clear. It was a performance reminiscent of the one Braehead dished out seven days earlier. Taylor MacDougall’s hustle forced an error as Coventry tried, but failed, to get the puck out of their zone and he wasn’t far away from his second goal of the weekend.
Coventry’s lapses in their own zone under some serious Edinburgh pressure continued with Vorobyev capitalising on an error from Blaze defenceman Jim Jorgensen with the Capitals going close to stabbing home the opener.
By now Edinburgh were sensing an opportunity to strike and they went close twice in quick succession with Grigors and Michal Dobron combining well to create a shooting lane for Vorobyev but Stewart reacted smartly to save with his pad.
The Blaze netminder was shaken up soon afterwards following a fizzing Karel Hromas slapshot that crashed into his mask. With Edinburgh seeking to capitalise on their growing momentum, the Capitals would break the deadlock with 6:33 to play in period one.
The Capitals did well to keep the puck in the Blaze zone and, after cycling the puck in search of a shooting lane, player/coach Dobron would find the net on an unassisted rocket of a slapshot that gave Stewart no chance. It was no more than Edinburgh deserved and, crucially, it was a reward for the fast start they had wanted.
Coventry were quickly on the front foot in search of an immediate response and they weren’t far away, first when captain Jordan Pietrus forced Fullerton into action with the blocker, before Stewart attempted an audacious wrap-around-shot that nearly came off.
Yet Edinburgh’s strong checking game, in particular from the impressive Vorobyev, conjured up another chance from nothing but Hromas couldn’t apply the finishing touch after Stewart had saved the initial effort.
That man Hromas would go close to adding to his first Capitals goal against Manchester when his effort deflected wide following yet another forced turnover. Fyodorov and Vorobyev combined beautifully moments later and, after Stewart could only parry the effort, it landed nicely for Johnston who, under duress from Bjorn Bombis, couldn’t get his shot away.
That hooking infringement against Bombis set up the first power play chance of the night with 1:03 to play in period one, a penalty that carried over into the beginning of period two. However the Blaze would rally to kill off the penalty, commencing a familiar theme on the few power play opportunities that would present themselves in this one.
After Sean Beattie’s backhander flashed wide, Stewart nearly fashioned a chance of his own following neat stick work but Fullerton was alert to the danger to cover.
Following another power play opportunity for the Capitals after an interference call against Noble, the Blaze would limit the hosts to one real opening of note with Staal firing wide before reducing Edinburgh to 0 for 2 on the night.
That seemed to energise the Blaze who, belatedly kicked into life in the opening half of period two. Cantin would go close with an attempted wrap around effort before Matt Marquardt would test Fullerton.
The Blaze were beginning to gain control and would go close through a powerful Shawn Boutin slapshot before Cantin’s deflected effort threatened to cause problems for Fullerton with the puck awkwardly bobbling through to the Capitals’ netminder.
Edinburgh were nearly architects of their own downfall, however, surrendering the puck deep in their own zone but Brett Robinson couldn’t capitalise on a golden chance. After Michael D’Orazio’s vicious slapshot crashed into Stewart’s mask for a second time, the Capitals had Fullerton to thank up the other end following a string of fine saves.
After another careless defensive zone turnover, Fullerton’s quick reactions bailed out the Capitals and it would prove to be a crucial spell of play as, before long, Edinburgh would punish the Blaze’s inability to cash in.
With 7:54 remaining, Edinburgh showed tremendous patience to carve open a scoring chance with Garrett Milan on hand to slam home top shelf for goal number two, assisted by Vorobyev and Matt Tipoff who laid a square pass on a plate for the Capitals’ man of the match.
It gave the Capitals a bit of a cushion, but they weren’t without their moments of fortune when the Blaze kept the puck in the zone, cycled it well and seemed to have fashioned a scoring chance in the slot only for the arriving attacker’s stick to break as he attempted an effort on goal.
But with 5:22 to play, a hard hit from Dobron on Bombis by the boards inadvertently dislodged the plexi-glass and led to a premature ending to period two, with the remaining minutes and period three being played back to back.
The Blaze had outshot Edinburgh 12-11 in period two but were left frustrated and trailed 2-0. They would, however, finally register a goal of their own just a minute into period three, though it owed a great deal of fortune to a wicked deflection that left Fullerton with no chance.
It was a goal completely of Robin Bergman’s own making as he skated deep into the Capitals zone before unleashing a powerful effort that appeared to strike D’Orazio on the way through. More importantly it had the Blaze back into the contest with 19:00 to play in period three.
The Capitals were left cursing their luck again as they sought to re-establish their two goal lead immediately. Fyodorov did well to play in Staal and the former Carolina Hurricanes winger’s shot was only partially saved by Stewart, nearly squirming home in the process.
That third goal didn’t appear to be too far away with Johnston, Tipoff and Milan combining beautifully but the latter could only fire wide when well placed. Had that gone in it that might have been that.
As it happens the third goal duly arrived on the Capitals’ next offensive phase. It was well crafted too, with Fyodorov and Vorobyev combining well to set up Hromas and this time his square pass across the goalmouth got the reward it deserved. Fyodorov ghosted in to slam into the gaping net with 14:52 to play to give Edinburgh another two-goal cushion.
Pocket rocket Milan very nearly crafted another Capitals goal from the restart as he broke at pace and set up Tipoff for the effort which forced Stewart into another pad stop. Shortly after Fyodorov, Tipoff and Vorobyev combined well but on this occasion the puck flew harmlessly over.
But Edinburgh would have to withstand some serious Coventry pressure, and had Fullerton to thank for a series of smart stops to retain their two goal lead. First Ross Venus forced a routine glove stop, before Cowley went close after the Capitals had failed to clear their zone.
Things didn’t get any easier with Fullerton saving well following Bombis’ neat pass for the arriving Robinson. The lively Stewart was next to go close with a fierce shot which was plucked out of the air by the superb Fullerton in the Edinburgh crease.
The Capitals nearly iced the game and were left ruing a slice of misfortune when Dobron’s shot narrowly crept wide only for it to hit Stewart’s skate on the rebound and somehow stay out.
Coventry were finishing the period strongly, however, with Marquardt opening up a shooting lane only to steer over when he should have tested Fullerton. Stewart also created a chance of his own making but he was unable to claim control of the puck in time as he set up for the shooting chance. It rather summed up Coventry’s night and weekend.
Boutin had two quick efforts, in vain, as he tried to haul Coventry to within one. The first, a thunderous blueline strike flashed wide, while the second brought out the very best of Fullerton following a neat square pass.
With 2:54 to play Coventry finally had a power play chance of their own following a harsh call against Milan for roughing and it set the scene for a dramatic finish with Blaze coach Danny Stewart opting to pull namesake Brian in favour of an extra skater.
It nearly backfired when Staal raced through looking to seal the win with the short-handed empty netter but he lost control of the puck at the vital time as Coventry somehow came out unscathed.
Edinburgh continued the theme of both sides being 100% on the penalty kill, and they weren’t about to be denied an emphatic fourth when Milan pounced on Fyodorov’s pass to slam home the empty-net goal from neutral ice with virtually the last play of the game.
It was a period in which the Capitals were outshot 15-8 as Fullerton stepped up with some big saves, but it was hard to argue that Edinburgh didn’t deserve the win following a strong performance – the foundation for which was a 2-0 lead.
The Capitals now have a short-week as they get ready for the visit of Dundee on Wednesday and man of the match Garrett Milan, instrumental with his two goals, believes that Edinburgh capitalised on a quick start – something they discussed following another sloppy opening against Manchester Storm on Saturday.
“We obviously came out strong, we had a big emphasis today on our start,” said Milan. “Obviously getting off to a bad start in Manchester [on Saturday], we kind of put ourselves in a hole, so today we wanted to focus on our start and being up two nothing against these guys is definitely a big confidence boost for us moving forward. We got a good start and we just kind of rolled with it.
“Obviously we’ve had success in the third period, but this league is a tough league and we know there are going to be limited times that we’re going to come back from two or three goal deficits in the third period so we want to be up going into the third period, and that’s why we gave ourselves a chance to win tonight by doing that and having a good start. So we want to keep playing with the lead obviously, we don’t want to come back, but if we do we’ve got the guys in the room that have good character and want to come back too.
“Obviously playing out of our conference we know that [the Erhardt Conference] it’s strong. Every team this year is going to be a strong team, but anyone can beat each other on any given night so it gives us confidence going into other games and other teams that we can win. We can play any night and we know if we give our best effort we can win games.
“It’s good when you can chip in offensively, that’s what I want to bring to the team and help when I can. That was a big goal. Being up two nothing going into the third is big for us. Two goals compared to one is big because one mistake and it’s a goal in this league.
“We’ve got a day off here tomorrow and we get back to work on Tuesday. Obviously we’ve got Dundee coming in [on Wednesday] and we’ve kind of struggled against them this year but we haven’t had a full roster against Dundee all year. Whether that’s missing Fully [Travis Fullerton] back there in the nets or some imports throughout the games, so it’s going to be good and hopefully we’ll have a full roster. Hopefully Schultzy [Ian Schultz] will be back. We’ve got to keep rolling here.”