For the second time this season the Edinburgh Capitals fought back to score five unanswered goals against the Fife Flyers on home ice. It scarcely seemed possible given the way the game started as the Capitals roared back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to take the points in a thrilling 6-3 win.
The hosts were looking to register their first points of December and claim two huge Gardiner Conference points in the process, but any hopes of a quick start were dashed within thirty seconds of the opening face-off.
After a sloppy start in Braehead on Saturday night that saw the Capitals concede three early goals, Fife would strike just 28 seconds into period one as Edinburgh’s defensive frailties were cruelly exposed again.
Take nothing away from the visitors though. Already short-benched and without captain Ryan Dingle, Shayne Stockton and Mathew Sisca, they quickly preyed on any lingering nerves the hosts had to grab the early lead.
It owed a lot to the opening face-off win by Chase Schaber and though Justin Fox was tied up by a combination of Travis Fullerton and the Edinburgh rearguard, Sebastien Thinel was on hand to tuck in the rebound.
Clearly stunned by that early setback, Edinburgh were close to hitting back immediately which set the tone for an open, fast-paced affair. Ian Schultz found Yevgeni Fyodorov and his inviting square pass for the arriving Jared Staal deflected just the wrong side of the post.
But the warning signs were certainly there up the other end. Fox found some room before firing shortside on Fullerton, though on this occasion the Edinburgh netminder did well to guard his post to save.
And within moments, Fife capitalised on a quick rush to race into a 2-0 lead with under three minutes played. It was not pretty from the Capitals’ perspective, but the Flyers were not likely to care turning defence into attack in a split second to score.
It came after Garrett Milan’s cut-back for Pavel Vorobyev was neatly cut-out and defenceman Russ Moyer was given the freedom to skate through the neutral zone and into a shooting lane before flashing a superb solo effort past Fullerton.
A shell shocked Edinburgh were struggling to keep tabs with Fife who continued to pounce on odd-man rushes. The Capitals had Fullerton to thank for a string of fine stops to keep the score down as he first saved from Fox in the slot and then pulled off a magnificent double-save soon afterwards.
He miraculously stuck out a pad to deny Thinel a second following a sweet square pass, before sprawling to deny former Stanley Cup winner Ric Jackman’s follow up attempt as Fife went post-to-post.
By this stage it was all Fife as Edinburgh attempted to weather the early storm and a critical back-door pokecheck by Schultz would prove decisive as he had the awareness to stick with David Turon following a neat pass by the impressive Carlo Finucci. It looked to have prevented a certain goal.
And on their first break of note, the Capitals would open their account on the night. They did well to keep the puck in and Vorobyev, so often the architect, laid the puck on a plate for the arriving Schultz to ram home his and Edinburgh’s first, moments after he had prevented a goal at the other end.
However it would prove to be a brief respite. Back came Fife and within minutes they had re-established their two goal lead in a breathless first period. It came on another quick break as Kyle Haines found the speedy Finucci and his drive beat a static Fullerton glove-side for 3-1 with 11:46 to play.
It very nearly got worse before it got better. Failing to heed the warning signs, the Capitals were very nearly punished again. They had a combination of the post and crossbar to thank as Brendan Brooks found Finucci and he was inches away from his second and Fife’s fourth as the puck crashed into the frame of the goal.
The nervousness at the back end was clearly in evidence as Edinburgh just about managed to scramble the puck clear as Schaber twice went close for the visitors.
But a couple of Fife near misses seemed to kick Edinburgh into life as they experienced their best pressure of the period. A flurry of chances came and went for the Capitals as Jacob Johnston twice forced Shane Owen into work and then Staal would test the Fife netminder shortly afterwards.
Their first power play chance nearly brought about a second as Vorobyev found Taylor MacDougall and his cut back in front could not quite find the stick of Mason Wilgosh as Fife scrambled it clear. Though the visitors would nearly sting the Capitals shorthanded.
In hindsight it was a crucial missed chance as Fox fed Thinel but he could only fire wide when well placed. Had that gone in it might have stalled Edinburgh’s attempts at a comeback before it had a chance to materialise.
And the momentum would swing the way of the Capitals before the period was out. Despite squandering a few half chances, a superb Matt Tipoff strike from nothing would prove to be the catalyst for another trademark Edinburgh comeback.
The Canadian did well to control a high puck and then slammed a bullet of an effort in, virtually in one motion, off the underside of the crossbar for 3-2 with 28 seconds remaining.
Certainly the hosts were re-energised by that late strike in period one and they were on the power play just over thirty seconds into the second following a call against Fox.
This time it was the Capitals who were left cursing their luck when Johnston’s shot was cleverly redirected by Karel Hromas with Owen beaten, but it only struck the post as Fife momentarily survived.
Edinburgh had the bit between their teeth and it seemed only a matter of time before they would strike again. And that they did.
Just over twenty seconds after Fox had stepped out of the penalty box, the pressure finally took its toll. It owed a lot to the persistence of Vorobyev to keep the puck in deep and then work it over to Johnston who grabbed his second goal of the weekend. The Edinburgh captain made no mistake squeezing the puck home shortside on Owen with just under three minutes played to knot the game up at 3-3.
Fife would go close to responding almost immediately as Phil Paquet capitalised on a fortunate bounce to find Fox, though the big frame of Fullerton stood tall to make the save.
It proved to be an important save as, within moments, the Capitals were back on the man advantage following a call against Haines on what would prove be a productive night for their special teams unit.
They needed only ten seconds to cash in, snatching the lead for the first time on the night at 4-3. The momentum was certainly with the hosts by this stage as Fyodorov showed tremendous patience to find the arriving Schultz and he made no mistake to fire beyond Owen with 13:14 to go.
Sensing further opportunities to strike, Fife had Owen to thank for a neat pad save from a Jay King drive and then to deny Schultz a hat-trick as he flashed the glove well to save.
But Fife would nearly strike from nothing. A poor cross-ice pass was intercepted by Finucci though Fullerton did superbly well to save the initial chance and the weak Haines follow up to keep the Capitals in front.
On the whole though, period two was a much improved defensive display for the hosts and what adjustments were made during the interval seemed to pay off with a renewed forecheck and stronger coverage in their own zone.
However the Capitals’ defensive capabilities were put to the test on Fife’s first power play chance with Schultz in the penalty box.
After limiting Fife on their man advantage, Edinburgh were very nearly architects of their own downfall as a mix up behind the net involving Fullerton nearly left the netminder stranded, but Fife failed to cash in.
To their credit though Fife continued to threaten a fourth of their own. A fortuitous bounce on the Fife blue line set Brooks away on the breakaway, with Jackman eventually firing on net.
The Flyers were soon gifted an opportunity on the power play following a cross-checking call against King, coming after Moyer’s neat spin move had forced Fullerton into a save.
Fife struggled to kick their lacklustre power play into life, however, as Thinel could only steer an effort wide when well placed. Jackman’s rocket slapshot from the blue line that crashed into a combination of Fullerton’s mask and glove was as close as they came to lighting the lamp.
Heading into the final frame, the game was certainly on a knife edge at 4-3 and Edinburgh knew that a fast start was essential if they wished to give themselves some breathing space.
Conscious of Fife’s obvious offensive prowess, Edinburgh suffocated the Flyers attempts at a comeback within two minutes of the restart as their red-hot power play connected again.
They struck eighteen seconds into the man advantage with Johnston finding Fyodorov in the circle. After assessing his options he threw the puck on net and Hromas was alert to redirect the puck in for 5-3 with 18:17 to go, their fourth unanswered goal.
Psychologically that seemed to suck the life out of a Flyers offence that had been especially clinical in the opening period. Edinburgh could have sealed the win soon after their fifth goal as Vorobyev was denied by Owen on a quick rush and Wilgosh could only steer wide on the rebound.
Back came Fife in search of a lifeline. They nearly got it when neat work presented a chance out in front but Edinburgh did enough to break up the play. A James Isaacs effort then forced Fullerton into a glove stop as the Flyers continued to ask questions.
The dangerous Finucci nearly turned provider on their next series of note as he found Fox and, after a neat toe-drag, Fullerton had to be alive to turn aside the effort with the pad.
Schaber would then have two quick openings in quick succession, the second a stinging one-timer on net that was well saved by Fullerton as he extended the pad to make the stop.
The visitors continued to create and squander chances with a neat Brooks square pass across the face of goal cleared and then Haines could only fire over from a promising position.
Having fanned on a rebound chance, another opportunistic Vorobyev break nearly put the icing on the comeback win as MacDougall’s pass from his own zone had the Russian away, but again Owen did well to deny him.
As the game entered the last five minutes, puck management was the key for the Capitals as they sought to thwart any attempted Fife comeback. But they were dealt a reminder of the Flyers’ threat as, having switched off momentarily, Paquet nearly made them pay before being tied up in front.
But another power play chance capped a tremendous win for Edinburgh. It would be especially memorable for man of the match Schultz who notched up his hat-trick, becoming the third Capitals player to register one this season after Vorobyev and MacDougall.
The superb Fyodorov grabbed his third assist of the night helping to pick out Schultz who rifled in past Owen for goal number six, the Capitals’ fifth unanswered goal of the night.
Six nearly became seven for a rampant Edinburgh offence with Tipoff and Schultz combining to feed Milan but, after attempting to round Owen, he could not quite steer home.
It mattered little in truth as the Capitals secured two vital Gardiner Conference points, their first in a busy December, snapping a three-game skid in the process.
Perhaps even more importantly given their recent defensive woes was the fact they shut out Fife for fifty minutes of this one following a very shaky start where they conceded three times off just eight shots. Edinburgh’s firepower will give them opportunities to win games as they showed in front of a jubilant home support, but tightening up at the back-end will be pivotal moving forward.
They now get ready for another in-conference double-header against the Dundee Stars next weekend. Hat-trick hero Ian Schultz played down his own achievements post-game, speaking of a team-first mentality and referencing the importance of getting some points against conference rivals.
“We’re heading in the right direction. Again it wasn’t the start we wanted, the same thing happened against Braehead [on Saturday] but we dug our heels in for the final fifty minutes and we found ways to get pucks in the net. That’s what the good teams do, they find ways to win.
“We had fifty minutes of just solid defensive hockey where we didn’t give them much and we limited every opportunity they had. They had a couple of odd-man rushes where Fully [Travis Fullerton] stood on his head but, for the most part, we were very defensively sound and happy with how tonight turned out.
“Anytime you can get points in the conference it’s a huge night. We got a little snake-bitten [in Braehead] but tonight it was good to come out with two, keep the confidence rolling but don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Coming into next weekend we expect a battle [against Dundee] and hopefully we’ll come out on top.
“Any way I can contribute to the team, whether that’s defensively or offensively it’s huge for me. It’s always been a team-first mentality so any time you can jump in there, whether I’m blocking a shot, stopping a goal, scoring a goal or setting one up, its equilibrium for me.”