A rally deep in the third by the Edinburgh Capitals nearly forced overtime, as an attempted late salvo came up just short for the second consecutive night against the Nottingham Panthers who claimed a 4-3 win in the process.
Capitals player/coach Michal Dobron rued four costly mistakes as his side succumbed to an eighth straight home defeat, and a fifth (home or away) in succession. This though was not your average dead rubber with Nottingham looking to cement their position in 4th and Edinburgh fighting to end the season on a positive note.
Early chances for the home side saw Pavel Vorobyev denied by the glove of Miika Wiikman, while Tyler Plews, who celebrated his 100th game in the Elite League on Saturday, drove an effort into the blocker.
An early turnover in the defensive zone nearly gifted the visitors the advantage though. David Clarke was on to the puck in a flash before teeing up Panthers captain Brad Moran, but Travis Fullerton was alive to the danger to make the save.
By now both sides were trading chances as Jared Staal was denied twice in quick succession, the second a backhander, while up the other end, Deivids Sarkanis evaded the attention of Mason Wilgosh on a quick break. Fullerton made the initial save with the pad, before denying Jeff Dimmen on the rebound.
Nottingham were soon on the power play after Taylor MacDougall was assessed a minor for holding the stick, but before long it was four-on-four hockey as Robert Farmer was called for an infraction of his own.
The home side would go close to an early marker with Garrett Milan showing great vision to pick out Staal in front, but the former Carolina Hurricanes forward’s one-timer was dealt with by Wiikman who made a comfortable save.
A fortunate bounce off the boards nearly acted as the catalyst for the opening goal. Clarke latched on to the puck and would have fancied his chances from the slot, only to be denied by a blocker save from Fullerton.
But Nottingham would soon grab the lead, just as they did on Saturday night. A long lead pass had Robert Lachowicz in and behind and, though he fired into the side netting, he kept the puck alive to turn provider out in front. The Capitals will not look back too fondly on their defensive coverage as Dimmen was given the freedom out in front with not a defender in sight, rifling his effort past Fullerton with 8:26 remaining.
The Capitals were almost level within seconds however. Terrific persistence by Wilgosh forced a turnover deep in the Panthers D zone but Wiikman made the save. It certainly lifted the home support after that earlier setback.
Things could have got worse before they got better as Nottingham were inches away from a second. It was little surprise to the see the lively Sarkanis at the heart of it as his break nearly culminated with Ollie Betteridge’s second goal in as many games.
The Latvian’s square pass looked destined to be rammed home but for superb defensive work that tied him up in front, allowing Fullerton to locate the puck and then cover for the whistle. It was quite the let off for the hosts.
It proved to an important moment as the Capitals would find an equaliser before the period was out. Two penalties called against Jay King and then against Moran off the face-off meant we were back to four-on-four hockey with Edinburgh looking at the prospect of a three second power play.
They would come close as Johnston, circling behind the net, forced a save by Wiikman with Staal positioned out in front in the hope of latching on to any rebounds.
And then came the leveller. It owed much to the work of both Ian Schultz and then Jaroslav Hertl out in front who combined to feed Wilgosh. The Canadian gratefully accepted the invitation, firing an effort blocker side past Wiikman for the power play marker with 4:03 remaining.
Blue line drives for Dimmen and Rihards Grigors nearly brought reward for both teams. The latter’s try cannoned off of Wiikman and fell invitingly for Milan on the rebound, but again the Nottingham netminder was there to save.
Despite being outshot 19-8 in the opening frame, Edinburgh carried renewed confidence into the middle period with the game evenly poised at one apiece. They nearly had the ideal start to period two as Schultz fired an effort into Wiikman and Karel Hromas, on the stretch, was close to diverting the rebound home.
Up the other end Stephen Schultz appeared to strike the post with a pass, before a trio of chances for Dan Spang, Schultz and Clarke threatened to bring about goal number two for the visitors.
As it happens a second of the night was just around the corner for Nottingham. It was a gift in truth, coming from absolutely nothing as the Panthers gleefully took receipt of the puck and lashed home from close range.
It all came with Vorobyev holding the puck behind the net to allow the Capitals to make the change. But rather than advancing with the puck, he inadvertently passed it straight to Schultz who gobbled up the chance past a helpless Fullerton.
At 2-1 and given the manner of the goal, it risked deflating Edinburgh but there was nothing of the kind as the Capitals continued to fight tooth and nail to get back into the contest.
Hertl would fire wide from the blue line as the Capitals searched for an immediate response, and it was not long in coming.
Less than three minutes had elapsed before Vorobyev redeemed himself to knot the game up at two. It came after a fortunate bounce from the vicinity of Sean Beattie had him through one-on-one, and it was never in doubt as he waited for Wiikman to commit before sliding the puck under the Nottingham netminder.
There are not many better ways to atone for an error with Vorobyev showing his delight by emphatically punching the air. 2-2 and game on with 11:27 remaining.
The Panthers were undeterred by Edinburgh’s second of the night and were close to re-establishing their lead immediately. A clever Clarke tip in front forced Fullerton to readjust before making the save, while Chris Lawrence audaciously tried to round the Capitals netminder who saved again.
Up the other end Wiikman had to be on his toes to deny a trio of Capitals from handing Edinburgh their first lead of the night. Schultz fashioned a chance from behind the net only to be denied, before the same fate met Wilgosh and Johnston via a deflection.
Vorobyev threatened his second when he collected Michael D’Orazio’s pass and fired an effort on net, before Lawrence and Alex Nikiforuk combined for the visitors. The move would end with Matt Carter going close on the turn, but the Capitals survived.
The Capitals were unable to cash in on a power play with Johnston and D’Orazio denied on blue line drives, while the Panthers were on the power play themselves eventually carrying over an additional 29 seconds into the final frame.
Carter had Nottingham’s clearest sight of goal, collecting Andy Sertich’s pass before finding Fullerton in top form again. Logan MacMillan would then be thwarted as Fullerton flashed the leather to make the glove stop.
Good work on the boards by the tenacious Milan presented half a chance for Staal as Wiikman gloved, before two more power play chances would come the way of the hosts.
Another D’Orazio slap shot after good work by Johnston and Milan was kept out, before Dobron tried his luck from the point only to be frustrated as it skipped narrowly wide.
Nottingham would punish Edinburgh’s inability to capitalise on a series of half chances, snatching the lead for the third time on the night. Sertich advanced before feeding Schultz and when he teed up Nikiforuk the Panthers would finish clinically.
It was a swift move by the visitors but the Capitals may be disappointed with the ease in which Nottingham appeared to dissect their rearguard. Fullerton meanwhile had little chance as Nikiforuk fired across the netminder top shelf with 11:29 remaining.
Edinburgh’s task quickly became more difficult as Nottingham added another. The Capitals were not without their chances to level beforehand though as Matt Tipoff and Milan forced saves, before Taylor MacDougall swept wide on a rebound try.
But Nottingham were soon celebrating again. Good work behind the net saw Erik Lindhagen score from in front. It may have taken a fortunate bounce but the Swede was credited with the strike, as the Panthers opened up a two goal cushion with 7:33 to go.
That looked to have put paid to the kind of dramatic finish that we were treated to on Saturday night, but it could not have been further from the truth as the Capitals served up a gripping end to this one.
An attempt at a comeback would not have been permitted to take shape had Fullerton not denied Moran with a superb pad save. The chance presented itself for the Nottingham captain, only for Fullerton to extend his right pad just as he looked destined to score.
The Capitals went empty net with 2:45 to play, pulling Fullerton in favour of an extra skater. And within sixteen seconds they were on the power play following a call against Lachowicz.
Following a timeout, Edinburgh wasted little time in setting up a grandstand finish. Schultz and Vorobyev combined to find D’Orazio lurking in the face-off circle and he slammed home superbly with 2:08 to play. 4-3 and game on.
Fullerton exited again with 1:24 remaining as the Capitals threw everything in search of the leveller that would force overtime.
Both Tipoff and Wilgosh were close to diverting efforts in as Nottingham survived. Vorobyev nearly turned provider this time with Tipoff again knocking on the Panthers door. One final chance of note presented itself in a thrilling climax as Johnston fired the puck through a crowd of bodies, only for it to find the side netting rather than the back of the net.
Nottingham held on to secure the third win of their Scottish road-trip, returning south with six points from six. For the Capitals their attentions quickly turn to the final two games of the season, both against Braehead next weekend, as they seek to end the season on a high.
Capitals player/coach Michal Dobron was relatively happy with how his side fared against the Nottingham Panthers, but believes four key errors cost his side on the night. Dobron also refused to be moved on his own future, with the Czech’s one year contract as player/coach up at the end of the season.
“I think we played really well, but we made four mistakes and against this team we have to play without mistakes. Nottingham can score in every situation, but I think the guys played two really good games this weekend.
“We have two days off because these two games were really tiring for the guys. [We will have] some fun practice, some power play and penalty kill because we know how Braehead play, and I hope we will win the last two games.
“I don’t know now,” said Dobron when asked if he expects to be back next season as player/coach. “It is not a question for me but, like I said, we will see.”