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Belfast Giants 1 Fife Flyers 0: Flyers shot out of the sky

Fife Flyers may have been the second Scottish team to qualify for this weekend's Elite Ice Hockey League play-off finals, but they were first to be knocked in a battling 1-0 defeat to the Belfast Giants this afternoon.

The Kirkcaldy club, who came back from the dead in the last few weeks by winning 13 of their final 16 games to secure a place at this weekend's event at the National Ice Arena in Nottingham, failed to resurrect themselves for a second time against the league champions.

In a game which rushed freely from end to end, a Kevin Saurette goal midway through the third period proved fatal for the play-off semi-final debutants.

It was a harsh end to a game they more than held their own in, with a late rally unable to push the tie to overtime in front of a partisan crowd which willed the puck towards the Belfast goal with every gasp, scream and shout.

With support from all 10 Elite League clubs packing the arena out, it is testament to the resolve and fight in the Scottish underdogs that every onlooker - barring the Braehead Clan & Belfast fans - was on their side.

Stay tuned for more live reporting this evening

After starting the stronger and more aggressive of the two, they settled into their stride, registering a credible 24 shots on the Giants goal while keeping out 33 out of Belfast's 34 attempts at the other end.

It took just 10 seconds for Fife to live up to their name and fly out of the traps.

A quick break forward from face off saw Jordan Fulton break through on goal with Giants netminder Stephen Murphy doing well to bat his snap shot away.

It was the sign of things to come as the Kirkcaldy club pressed the league champions hard and high up the rink.

Belfast's Evan Cheverie and Chris Higgins probably had the best of a limited amount of chances for the Norther Irish side, both of which were comfortably dealt with by Flyers netminder Kevin Regan.

Arguably the biggest talking point generated by the favourites in the opening exchanges was David Philips receiving a penalty for checking to the head on ex-Braehead man Bobby Chaumont, leaving the Canadian sprawled face down on the ice.

The second period was a far more frantic affair. After Fulton appeared to strike the right post, Fife were on the defensive for most of the time, with Regan to be thanked for some truly heroic stops.

Jeff Szwez and Dustin Whittlecotton both failed to capitalise on a suicidal pass out from defence by Flyers, with the Flyers netminder, who later received the man of the match award, just one of the three bodies hurled in the road of the puck.

More chaos was to follow just minutes later when practically the whole Fife team tossed themselves in front of shot after shot, only for the Scots to eventually scramble the puck clear, causing the majority of the arena to rise to their feet in appreciation.

Yet Regan's defence was finally breached with just 12 minutes left to play. Cheverie won a face off with the puck breaking to Saurette, whose quick shot from the right deceived Regan, coming through a ruck of players and finishing in the net.

From then on in Belfast seemed content to defend what they had as Fife harshly found themselves behind. A few near misses whistled by the charmed Giants net as Fife camped in their opponents third.

They then took off Regan to gain a numerical advantage in attack, yet it failed to yield the desired goal to take them through to tomorrow's final against either Clan or the Sheffield Steelers.

Todd Dutiaume, the Fife Flyers head coach, says the last two months have been the most enjoyable of his career despite his team's defeat.

The Canadian has watched on with pride as his group of players have gone from being bottom of the table in December to running the league champions incredibly close in the first of the two ties to be played at National Ice Centre in Nottingham.

In only their third season in the league, it shows a rapid progression under Dutiaume's stewardship that was encapsulated in their first ever appearance in a play-off semi-final.

They matched their more experienced and technically superior opponents hit for it, pass for pass, punch for punch, gaining the respect of the thousands watching on.

And the Fife head coach admits he and his team have thrived as being one of the last four teams involved in the competition, even if they couldn't make it to the last two.

If I back up a couple of months and go to November and December when we dropped down into 10th place, it became very uncomfortable," admitted Dutiaume, whose side had won 15 of their last 19 games prior to today's tie.

"It was a difficult time and we made a decision as a team to insulate within ourselves, have fun and take it game by game.

"These guys started rolling the snowball down the hill, it got bigger and bigger.

Being a coach, it' not a position I've always felt 100% comfortable in because I was always a player, and to be standing on that bench you sometimes feel isolated. 

"I was a bit emotional before the game because eve though I wasn't playing, this has been possibly the most enjoyable two months of my career.

We talked before about having no regrets and leaving it all on the ice. We kind of fell at the last hurdle but I'm very proud of the guys. It just wasn't enough."

Fife man of the match Kevin Regan, the club's netminder, pulled off an astonishing 33 stops from 34 shots against a normally free-scoring Giants team.

He admitted his recollection of the one that got away was a bit sketchy. "I didn't really have any view of it to be honest," he admitted.

"There was so many people in front the net. For the puck to squeeze through there is a miracle, there was no way it should have got through that gap."

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