The final Forth derby of the season promised to deliver a classic and it did not disappoint. But given how high-scoring the meetings have already proved to be this season, why are we surprised? A spirited Edinburgh Capitals side were edged out 5-4 by the Fife Flyers, the latter securing their play-off berth in the process on a dramatic night at Murrayfield.
A shut-out loss in Manchester on Saturday not only cut Edinburgh further adrift at the bottom of the table, it also all but ended any lingering hopes the Capitals had of making the post-season. This though was far from a dead rubber, though derbies never are, as Edinburgh threatened the type of comeback that has become synonymous with the team this season.
They started reasonably well, just as they did in their lopsided loss to Dundee last weekend, but had to survive a scare when Sebastien Thinel collected Chase Schaber’s feed and forced Travis Fullerton into work seconds into this one.
Within thirty seconds both sides had registered attempts on net as Yevgeni Fyodorov and Pavel Vorobyev combined to create an opening for Matt Tipoff, though Shane Owen made the stop. Edinburgh were clearly brimming with confidence and were inches away from an early marker as Garrett Milan tipped Jared Staal’s effort narrowly wide of Owen’s post.
On the Capitals’ first power play chance, called against Josh Scoon for slashing, it was Vorobyev who had the hosts’ clearest sight of goal as he collected Tipoff’s neat saucer pass and fired at Owen. Fife though would return unscathed.
They were, however, inches away from breaking the deadlock soon afterwards. Unsurprisingly it had the lively Milan at the heart of it as he plucked the puck out of the air, after Staal had twice been denied, and fired an effort into the side netting.
But things were far from one sided. Indeed the visitors were growing into the contest themselves as Justin Fox capitalised on a fortuitous bounce and forced Fullerton into a save, before Matt Sisca went close on an effort of his own.
The frenetic opening to the game continued with Mason Wilgosh desperately unlucky not to jam home from in front after Jaroslav Hertl had thrown the puck on net.
Yet we were soon about to witness the save of the period up the other end. A quick Flyers rush looked destined to bring about the opener as Brendan Brooks collected a neat square pass, only to be denied by the sprawling pad of Fullerton.
If that had the Capitals faithful on their feet then what followed raised the roof. Edinburgh were assessed just their third fighting major of the season (Grigors v Braehead, Hertl v Coventry) as Ian Schultz and Thomas Muir dropped the gloves. It certainly gave the entire building an injection of energy, the kind derby games tend to have.
Schultz though was assessed an additional two minutes on top of the mandatory five minute major for fighting with Tipoff sitting the penalty, as he left the ice for running repairs following a cut to the face.
And though the Capitals survived the first time, they were to be punished on Fife’s second power play opportunity of the night. With 1:15 remaining in the opening frame, Thinel was on hand to jam the puck home on Fullerton’s doorstep following good work by Fox as the visitors snatched the lead.
It commenced a wave of penalties as Michael D’Orazio was quickly assessed a delay of game penalty, with Fife looking likely to begin the middle frame on the man advantage. But with tensions clearly running high, Flyers captain Ryan Dingle was called for roughing to set up a nicely poised 4-on-4 situation with Fife carrying a narrow 1-0 lead into the second.
Edinburgh would however haul themselves level within a minute of the middle period. After Vorobyev was denied on a one on one chance, he then registered a secondary assist as Hertl picked out Fyodorov for the leveller. It was the perfect start.
The visitors appeared unaffected by that early setback as the unfortunate Schaber found himself inches away from restoring Fife’s lead, only for the puck to crash off the crossbar.
Fullerton was again at his acrobatic best to deny the Flyers on a three on one opportunity soon afterwards. Carlo Finucci led the rush with Dingle picking out the arriving Fox but rather than culminating in a second goal of the evening, Fox was superbly denied as Fullerton flashed the leather to make an incredible glove stop.
But after killing off another Edinburgh penalty, Fife would not have to wait too much longer for their second goal of the night. It was rather opportunistic in truth but the visitors are hardly likely to complain. With Milan on the deck, Brooks’ pass released Schaber on a breakaway and he made no mistake, firing a backhander top shelf with 12:02 to go.
2-1 soon became 3-1 before long as the hosts were again undone by a strike from in front of the net. It was well worked though as James Isaacs positioned himself perfectly to fire home from close range with 8:15 remaining.
Edinburgh were soon on the penalty kill again as the returning Schultz was handed a two minute minor for holding that was quickly upgraded to 2+10 for abuse of officials. What was a routine power play soon became a 5 on 3 as Vorobyev was then assessed for tripping. Things looked ominous.
Todd Dutiaume’s side rammed home their numerical advantage as all good sides do to race into a 4-1 lead with 5:08 left in the period. It came after good work behind the net by Fox and Brooks who combined to find Dingle in front. The result was never in doubt as he gave Fullerton no chance. Suddenly Edinburgh had a mountain to climb.
The Capitals were again on the power play but inadvertently almost conceded short-handed for the second straight week. Finucci pounced and nearly took full advantage of an ill-timed Michal Dobron slip, only to fan on his effort as Fullerton did just enough to put him off.
But if period two was firmly Fife’s period, there was no indication of what was to come in a pulsating final 20. Kyle Haines nearly put the gloss on a Flyers win early in the third when he was afforded the time and space to pick his spot, but Fullerton saved again to keep the deficit at three.
With 14:34 to go, the Capitals had their avenue back into the contest following a tripping call against Brooks. They duly made the most of their man advantage as Schultz redirected Jacob Johnston’s drive beyond Owen for his 19th goal of the season in all competitions. Edinburgh had a glimmer of hope with 13:53 remaining.
The momentum had certainly shifted as Wilgosh forced a pad save, before Vorobyev and two Dobron efforts threatened further goals.
Sensing further opportunities to strike, the Capitals got a slice of fortune as they struck again. It came with just over nine minutes left in the game as Wilgosh fired an effort that deflected past a stranded Owen for 4-3, coming after Schultz had won the face-off.
Though any hopes that Edinburgh’s third would act as the catalyst for the leveller were dealt a huge blow just six seconds after the restart, with Vorobyev harshly adjudged to have tripped his man.
Fife would duly cash in again on the power play to re-establish their two goal cushion. They too had fortune on their side as Haines drove an effort that took a wicked deflection, possibly off D’Orazio last, before nestling past a wrong footed Fullerton.
At 5-3 that looked to have put paid to Edinburgh’s comeback attempts. But this side don’t know when they are beaten and, to their credit, they set up a grandstand finish in this one.
After Hertl’s bullet slap shot forced a glove stop, the Capitals were again on the power play following another call against Dingle. They would reduce the arrears again as Dobron drove an effort from the blue line that found the net with 3:36 to play, the Czech’s 8th goal of the season.
Edinburgh threw everything in search of the goal that would force overtime, pulling Fullerton in favour of an extra skater with a minute and change to go, but Fife would hang on to register the two points at the Capitals’ expense.
The hosts certainly made a fist of a game that looked beyond them at 4-1, but the Flyers notched up the win that guarantees them a spot in the play-offs, while Edinburgh may already have one eye on next season as they remain rooted to the foot of the Elite League.
Any fears though that this season is simply petering out were put to rest in a battling performance from the Capitals who fall to their third successive defeat, and sixth consecutive at Murrayfield.
They now get ready for a rare home double-header against the Nottingham Panthers next weekend, with just two weekends and four games left in the 2016/17 campaign.
Forward Mason Wilgosh was largely pleased with how the Capitals played, despite the defeat, and believes the big ice can be a factor as they welcome Nottingham to Murrayfield for the first time this season next weekend.
“I thought we played quite well tonight. We played maybe 50 minutes, there was a couple of minutes we didn’t play real hard, and they capitalised on their chances. We had a good push at the end but unfortunately we came up a little short.
“There’s always been a rivalry between Fife and Edinburgh, so it was good to see,” said Wilgosh when asked about the feistiness of the game. “It was just time before something happened like that [the Schultz fight], it was a good fight and it got everyone in the building going and it was a big, exciting game.
“You try not to think of it,” Wilgosh said when asked if it is difficult lifting yourself for a game now the play-offs look to be out of reach. “You’ve got to go out there and play the game you know, play your hardest and let the rest take care of itself. Some people may say it is in the back of the mind but you’ve just got to try and play through it, try not to think about it and go out there and do what you do.
“They’re a tough opponent,” said Wilgosh when looking ahead to next weekend’s home double header against the Nottingham Panthers. “They’re a good team, they can play anywhere, but it’s a big ice and a lot of teams come in and they don’t really know that it’s an extra couple of feet down either side. We can take advantage of them that way, they’ll get used to it, but at the start maybe we’ll catch them sleeping.
“For sure, we want to finish strong no matter what. We’re here to win and give the fans what they want. We’re here to finish hard and win all the games we can.”