Missing out on a four-point weekend is one thing, losing ground on your play-off rivals is quite another. The Edinburgh Capitals’ slim play-off prospects took another hit as they slumped to a disappointing 5-1 home defeat at the hands of fellow play-off contenders the Dundee Stars. It’s a result that leaves the Murrayfield men six points adrift of the Stars, who leapfrog Manchester into 8th place, with just six games to play.
Saturday’s morale boosting win at Fife seemed to set up the Capitals up for a rare four-point haul and their record against Dundee would have provided plenty of encouragement in the build up to this one with Michal Dobron’s side claiming five wins from the seven previous league meetings.
But Dundee are a team on a mission of their own and having weathered the early Edinburgh storm, they strolled to a comfortable and deserved victory. The way the game slipped away from the hosts was arguably a microcosm of their entire league campaign.
Things though did not begin too badly as Edinburgh asked all the early questions. Stars netminder Joe Fallon was certainly the busier of the two goalies saving with the glove from Capitals captain Jacob Johnston and then denying the Canadian from a tight angle.
Fallon had to be on his toes soon afterwards to deny Jared Staal, extending his pad well to make the save. Dundee would then have one almighty let off when Garrett Milan fed Ian Schultz out in front but the forward, recently voted Edinburgh’s player of the month, missed on his attempted shot.
But Dundee were growing into the game themselves. The superb Vinny Scarsella picked out Justin Faryna who fired an effort on the turn with Travis Fullerton making the stop. Moments later a quick Stars rush nearly brought reward for Scarsella who forced a save himself.
And a cheap turnover by Staal nearly put the Capitals in trouble as Joey de Concilys forced a glove stop after the Stars had worked the chance. The game was certainly set up to be quite the contest with so much at stake for both teams.
Edinburgh kept knocking on the door with Milan twice denied after good work by Ian Schultz and Johnston behind the net, before Pavel Vorobyev fired narrowly wide after Kevin Hart had coughed up the puck.
The Capitals’ special teams play would be a source of frustration all evening as they failed to capitalise on a call against Matt White for holding the stick, the Stars returning to full strength without really being tested.
And there proved to be the difference between the sides. Dundee’s power play had plenty of success against Braehead on Saturday night and they would connect on their first chance in this one as they snatched the lead against the run of play.
Schultz was handed a penalty for holding, coming after the Capitals winger failed to control a loose puck. It proved to be a costly penalty in truth as the Stars broke the deadlock with 8:37 to play.
Dundee worked it well with Scarsella showing patience behind the net. And when he worked it out in front, Mikael Lidhammar was given the freedom and the time to take aim and fire beyond Fullerton.
It proved to be one enormous momentum swinger. Suddenly Edinburgh’s early dominance was replaced by wave after wave of Dundee attacks. Cale Tanaka’s neat toe drag fashioned an opening and the former Coventry Blaze forward forced Fullerton into a glove stop.
Lidhammar, clearly buoyed by his opener, tried his luck again on a backhander as Edinburgh struggled to keep tabs on trademark Dundee rushes. The Capitals were still alive and kicking at this stage though with Dobron twice going close from the blue line, while Staal and Taylor MacDougall were not far away from lighting the lamp themselves.
Critically though Edinburgh were punished for their inability to beat Fallon. When Schultz plucked a stray puck out of the air and released the speedy Milan, you would have been forgiven for thinking the outcome was inevitable but his attempts to go five-hole on Fallon were thwarted with just over three minutes left in the period.
It was a costly miss as within a minute Dundee had doubled their advantage. There was some fortune about it as Stars captain Joey Sides threw the puck on net and it dribbled over the line despite the best efforts of Fullerton, assisted by Kevin Bruijsten and Tanaka.
Two became three with 1:28 to go as a clearly shell-shocked Edinburgh side found themselves in a hole as period one ticked towards its close. It was all the work of Scarsella who collected Brett Switzer’s pass and fired across Fullerton glove side from the tightest of angles. 3-0, even at this early stage, looked an insurmountable lead.
The Stars would be on the power play entering the middle frame following a high-sticking call against Milan, but Edinburgh would rally to kill it off only surviving after Lidhammar passed up a gilt-edged chance to net his second of the night.
Up the other end Yevgeni Fyodorov fired wide, as did Johnston from Schultz’s feed before Milan found the pad of Fallon.
You sensed Edinburgh needed an early marker to give themselves something to cling to, but they would be undone again as the Stars cashed in for the second time on the power play. With Michael D’Orazio in the box for slashing, Felix Poulin’s shot was tipped in front by White and kept alive with Lidhammar given the simplest of tasks from close range. It was the Swede’s second of the night and Dundee’s fourth with 11:41 to play.
Edinburgh’s night seemed to be summed up by their inability to generate any offense on successive power play tries of their own, following a spate of penalties in the last 10 minutes of the second period.
It was not for the want of trying though as Hromas and Schultz ensured Fallon was kept on his toes in the Stars net. Two big 5 on 3 chances would soon present themselves with Dobron’s trademark slap shots as close as the Capitals came to finding the net.
Their wounds were compounded when Dundee snatched a fifth goal short-handed with 51 seconds remaining. It was only the third time this season that Edinburgh have conceded on the man advantage as Milan was unable to control a loose puck and the Stars opportunistically broke.
In truth it was little surprise to see the impressive Scarsella at the heart of it as he fed Hart out in front. The defenceman made no mistake, lining up his effort and flashing beyond a helpless Fullerton to extend the Stars lead. Edinburgh’s play-off hopes were taking one almighty dent.
To Edinburgh’s credit they did not throw the towel in. Dobron’s effort off the backboards nearly had the desired effect as Fyodorov was denied on the rebound. But a stray Matt Tipoff pass in Dundee’s zone commenced another quick break for the visitors with Fullerton denying Sides.
Tipoff would nearly make amends for his error when he fired over, coming after White had forced a pad save for the Stars as the game became increasingly stretched – Edinburgh desperate for anything in a bid to make the scoreline more respectable.
Johnston’s effort on net was cleverly redirected by Milan but instead of finding the net it only found the big body of the impressive Fallon who, at this stage, looked likely to preserve his clean sheet and emerge with the shutout.
Dundee would go close to adding to their sizeable lead with Tanaka denied by a superb block by Jay King and then Faryna only found the glove of Fullerton from the slot.
Soon afterwards Staal set off on an impressive solo run that culminated in an effort that Fallon did well to save. The Capitals’ efforts had thus far come up empty but they were handed an eighth power play chance before this one was out, the third called against Cameron McGiffin, with 4:36 to play.
And rather than succumbing to a second home shutout of the season, Edinburgh rallied to at least register on the scoreboard. First D’Orazio drove wide after good work by Staal, but then came the goal that the Edinburgh faithful had waited patiently for.
It did little to alter the outcome, coming with just 3:16 left in the game, as MacDougall redirected Johnston’s effort into the net for his 16th goal of the season in all competitions – a strike that finally broke the resistance of Fallon.
Edinburgh had one last chance as Milan raced clear on a breakaway before being tied up and flung into the net, but the referee deemed that no penalty had been committed despite half-hearted cries for a penalty shot.
Dundee though deservedly claimed the 5-1 win to move above Manchester Storm into 8th place, with games in hand over 7th placed Coventry Blaze to boot. Edinburgh will be left to rue what might have been, passing up a golden chance to reduce the gap to 8th to just three points which they would have done had they won.
They are now firmly up against it in their quest for the post-season. The gap between the Capitals and the Stars is now six points with just six games to play. Mathematically Edinburgh are still alive and while there is hope, the Capitals will continue to battle away but games are fast running out. Their improving road form has come at the expense of their home record, losing their fifth straight at Murrayfield on another disappointing night.
Next weekend presents another four point scenario as Edinburgh visit Manchester, before welcoming Fife in the final Forth derby of the season. The Capitals need wins and help from elsewhere, but it would not be the greatest surprise if this reverse at the hands of Dundee spells the end of their push for the play-offs.
Capitals forward Karel Hromas shared those frustrations after the game believing the Stars’ special teams play was the key turning point, erasing a promising opening from Edinburgh who had looked more likely to score early on in period one.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, we wanted a four-point weekend. We started well in Fife [on Saturday night] and I think it was a big win and we wanted to keep continuing the good work. I didn’t think we did a bad job in the first 10 minutes, we had a couple of chances but we just couldn’t get the puck through their goalie. And then they get three goals, a couple of lucky bounces and after that we just couldn’t get back into the game.
“We didn’t do a good job today. We didn’t shoot and we didn’t create any scoring chances on the power play and then they get a short-handed goal which is not supposed to happen. We had a power play, a 5 on 3, to get back into the game and we didn’t score but it was just a bad game from us.
“We played Cardiff and Belfast in the last couple of home games,” said Hromas when asked why he thought Edinburgh’s home form had deteriorated while their road form improved. “Obviously it is good for us that we can take points from the other team’s rink but we want to be strong back home also. For us it doesn’t matter now if we play out or at home, we just need to win home and away.
“There is still a chance to make the play-offs,” said Hromas despite Edinburgh falling six points off 8th with six games to play. “Until we’re not in the play-off game we want to keep battling for the play-offs, that’s an easy plan for us. It’s a big weekend against Manchester again, every game is going to be big. We’re going to prepare and try to take points in Manchester.”