Edinburgh Capitals produced a stunning third period comeback to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup for the first time in the club’s history, scoring five unanswered goals to beat fierce rivals, the Fife Flyers, 6-4.
It was a comeback that scarcely seemed possible with Fife racing into a 4-1 lead, but this Edinburgh side are made of sterner stuff as they produced another fighting come-from-behind performance to land an historic win. It’s a fifth win in the last six games, with all five coming from losing situations, as the Capitals responded brilliantly to Saturday’s defeat at the Dundee Stars which had ended their four-game winning streak.
Edinburgh were fully aware that a regulation win over the Flyers would book their place in the last eight against a Fife side who were short of numbers with defencemen David Turon and Ric Jackman sitting out this one with injuries.
The Capitals would register the first attempts of the game as Mason Wilgosh teed up Taylor MacDougall, but he couldn’t convert his two opportunities as Shane Owen smothered the puck. Fife were growing into the game themselves with the dangerous Mathew Sisca going close having been set up by Ryan Dingle. Off the ensuing face-off, Sisca forced Travis Fullerton into action for the first time in the game.
Edinburgh welcomed back three players from injury, including player/coach Michal Dobron, and the Czech defenceman wasn’t far away from opening his account as his effort crashed into the side netting. But Fife would be left cursing their luck when Shayne Stockton combined well with Chase Schaber only for the effort to come back out off the crossbar.
It was Fife who were first on the power play with Edinburgh captain Jacob Johnston called for interference. The Capitals were rather disciplined, though, limiting Fife to only one real effort of note as Russ Moyer’s deflected shot was saved by Fullerton, before killing off the penalty.
Johnston did well to quell a one-on-one opportunity soon after as Stephen Gunn failed to capitalise, before the Flyers were let off the hook when the impressive Dingle was robbed in his own zone by Yevgeni Fyodorov, but Owen stood tall to block the effort away from danger.
Jared Staal, this week named the Elite League fans’ player of the month for September, tried his effort after a successful face-off but it crashed over Owen’s goal, but Edinburgh would be presented with another huge opening with their first power play opportunity of the night. Phil Paquet was handed a two minute penalty for tripping as the Capitals looked to take advantage.
Fife survived one mad goalmouth scramble to return to full strength unscathed, although Edinburgh would almost gift the Flyers the opener. Ian Schultz, himself returning from an injury lay-off, was guilty of overplaying in his own zone but the usually reliable Dingle couldn’t make him pay. The Capitals would then find the side netting again with Russian duo Pavel Vorobyev and Fyodorov combining to good effect, though the latter couldn’t round off the move with a goal to show for it.
But Fife, second best for the majority of the period, were sensing an opportunity to strike. Dingle and Sisca combined but the latter could only shoot wide, before Dingle would have to settle for the same outcome off an unassisted effort.
Critically though, Fife would punish Edinburgh on their next power play opportunity after Schultz was penalised for interference, taking just four seconds to ram home their advantage. Off the face-off in the Capitals’ zone, Dingle would squeeze home the puck past Fullerton to hand Fife the lead with just 1:16 remaining in the first period. It was a sucker punch for Edinburgh who had the better of the play in period one, and things were about to get worse in a crazy goal-laden opening to period two.
The warning signs were there immediately when Sebastian Thinel played in Dingle who forced Fullerton into action. And Fife would capitalise on this momentum by scoring goal number two as Sisca ghosted in to fire home a second from the slot, assisted by Dingle with only two and a half minutes played.
You got the sense that Edinburgh needed the next goal and they were given a huge helping hand on their next power play opportunity. It took the Capitals just 18 seconds to register a power play goal of their own as Vorobyev received a pass from Johnston and fired past Owen from a tight angle with 16:54 to play.
But the frenetic opening to the period would not abate with Sisca going close to adding Fife’s third, robbing Matt Tipoff, only for Fullerton to stand tall and block away his one-on-one effort. Justin Fox would test the Capitals’ netminder with an effort of his own making after some neat stick play, although Edinburgh were not to be let off the hook again. After Brendan Brooks had fired his effort wide, Moyer’s rocket shot from the blue line was tipped home by Schaber with 12:43 to play as Fife re-established their two goal lead.
A big task got even more difficult barely a minute later as Fife capitalised on some slack defending to hit goal number four. It was a fine display of clinical finishing with Sisca adding his second on a backhander, assisted by Dingle and Moyer, with 11:35 to play. It was the fourth goal in a pulsating opening eight minutes to period two.
Dobron and Johnston would fire efforts wide as the Capitals tried to establish a route back into the game, but the open nature of the contest was in evidence again soon afterwards with Fox racing through on a breakaway, with Fullerton saving well.
Schultz and Vorobyev would pepper Owen’s goal but the Flyers would end the period in the ascendancy with another power play opportunity following a roughing call against Sean Beattie. Schaber forced a glove stop from Fullerton, before Brooks fired wide as Fife tried to force home their numerical advantage.
A mad scramble in the Edinburgh crease with the clock ticking down had hearts in mouths, yet the Capitals survived what would have surely have been a game clincher had Fife found the net again. The Flyers were clinical when the chances presented themselves, scoring three times on only 10 shots, a period in which Edinburgh were distinctly second best.
Any hopes of a comeback rested on a fast start to period three and, if there is one thing this Capitals team thrives on, it’s making a fist of games from losing situations. When all seemed lost and, with the opportunity to book a quarter-final berth slipping away, Edinburgh turned on the style with an astonishingly one-sided third period performance to take the points.
After Staal saw his effort creep wide, the Capitals halved the deficit when Jaroslav Hertl and the returning Garrett Milan combined to set up Tipoff, who did well to fire high past Owen with 17:42 to play.
Sisca would give Edinburgh an almighty scare when he came within a whisker of his hat-trick that nearly stalled the hosts’ comeback before it had a chance to materialise. But, as it happened, the Capitals would strike again not long afterwards.
There was a stroke of fortune about how it came about with Dobron’s bullet of an effort tipped twice en-route to goal, before trickling past a stranded Owen to make it 4-3. Wilgosh was credited with the goal, but it may well have struck a Flyers defender on the way through.
Sensing the most improbable of comebacks was definitely on, Edinburgh began to turn the screw as a shell-shocked Fife struggled to keep pace.
After failing to capitalise on their next power play opportunity, despite efforts from Johnston and Michael D’Orazio from the blue line, Edinburgh were soon on terms when Tipoff slammed home his second of the game after good work from Schultz behind the net with 12:34 to go, knotting up the game at 4-4.
The relentless tempo continued with Vorobyev not far away from Edinburgh’s fifth when he reacted quickest to a loose puck but he couldn’t quite divert home the rebound. Fife were beginning to show signs of life themselves with Brooks shooting wide and Dingle playing a near perfect pass in the slot for the arriving Carlo Finucci.
Yet the third period remained Edinburgh’s to lose. It felt like only a matter of time before goal number five would arrive, the only question was whether the Capitals could force a result without the need for overtime.
MacDougall would go close with two quick efforts and then Fyodorov would fire just wide of Owen’s upright. Another power play opportunity seemed like the opportune moment to strike after Thinel was guilty of hooking but despite a barrage of attempts, Fife just about survived to return to full strength even.
But it would prove to be a brief respite. Staal did superbly to carve open an opportunity from behind the net, teeing up Schultz who battled to the front of the net and then showed composure to steer home Edinburgh’s fifth goal of the night with 4:22 remaining.
There was one final hurdle for the Capitals to negotiate with Dobron called for high-sticking and Flyers coach Todd Dutiaume would take the aggressive option on the power play by pulling his netminder Owen in favour of an extra skater with just over three minutes to play.
That move backfired, however, when Johnston pounced on the puck and released the marauding Vorobyev with the outcome never in doubt. The tricky former NHLer kept his nerve on the back handed empty netter to slam home a short-handed goal and seal an extraordinary come-from-behind win with 2:08 to play. The Capitals came into the game needing a win in regulation to seal a spot in the last eight and, in dramatic fashion, they did just that.
Edinburgh had won in Fife’s back yard eight days earlier, storming back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2, but this was something special. A team that looked down and out after two responded emphatically with a dominant display in the third to seal an incredible 6-4 win and spark jubilant scenes.
Forward Matt Tipoff played an instrumental role in the comeback, netting two of the five unanswered third period goals, and he believes their experiences of being down in games already this season proved vital.
“After a second period like that you’ve just got to put it behind you. I forget what the score was but I think we were down 4-1 and in a situation like that you can’t really give up because 20 minutes is a really long time. We showed it out there that anything can really happen if you get a couple of quick ones and jump on your opportunities, because we were getting chances throughout the game but we just weren’t scoring. We took advantage in the third and came out with the win.”
“Yeah exactly,” said Tipoff when asked if the Capitals aren’t phased by being behind in games. “It happened earlier on in the season so I think that’s where the confidence comes from. We’d obviously like to put that behind us and try and get the first one but we’ll definitely take it. Like I said before no game is out of reach no matter what the score is, in our building especially, and our group of guys aren’t going to give up this year that’s for sure. We’re really excited and hopefully we’ll keep it going.”
“Yeah it’s great,” said Tipoff reflecting on the news that the Capitals have booked their place in the quarter finals of the Challenge Cup. “We’re extremely excited. The fans out there, they’re so loyal, they’re so passionate for us so we owe it to them to qualify for something like this. Their support is something that gets us through, especially when we’re down by three goals. So like I say, we’re just really excited and looking forward to the quarter-finals now and the rest of the season.”
“Definitely,” said Tipoff when asked about whether the comeback spoke volumes of the character in the team. “Like I’ve been saying we don’t want to be coming back like that but we’ll definitely take it, and you’re right, it does show we have character in this dressing room. Down 4-1, we showed that. But we’re going to work on trying to get a bit of a better start from now on, but we’ll take the positives and move on.”
“It’s great to contribute, but in the end all that matters is we won,” Tipoff said when reflecting on his two-goal performance. “It’s always better when you can help the team and help the guys around you. We were having tons of chances throughout the game, we had a breakaway, an empty-net that I missed, and I’m just happy that I could help the team and help this organisation get towards the next sort of stepping stone to growing this organisation and growing the game of hockey in Edinburgh.”
“It’s a bit of both,” said Tipoff when asked about how good this team can be and whether the aim is to take it one game at a time. “You can definitely see it, we kind of had almost our full line-up there, and that’s what we can do, we can comeback, we can play all types of different styles of hockey, but we’re definitely a really good team and we’re a confident group. We’re going to take it day by day because, with guys out and guys hurt, you can’t really look too far into the future especially with so many games in this season. It’s too hard to look down the line and see that there is 40 or 50 games left so you kind of have to go week by week, day by day.”