Ice Hockey: Capitals can still believe

WHATEVER happens in the final weeks of the Elite League season, Edinburgh Capitals
have taken big strides in 
re-establishing themselves as a force again. Losing to Nottingham Panthers is no disgrace and despite the heavy-looking 1-6 scoreline, Caps didn’t let them have the two points easily.

One-sided the outcome may appear, but the Murrayfield outfit came up against a Panthers side who surely will be proclaimed champions very soon. They are a team that are head and shoulders above everything else in the Elite League.

The play-offs remain a very real possibility for the Capitals despite this defeat. They are among a quartet of Scots sides, as well as Hull Stingrays, who continue to cut each other’s throats in the race for the top eight and Gardiner Conference glory. This will go to the wire.

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Caps forward Neil Hay 
certainly believes the score didn’t reflect the game and just put this loss to the Panthers as one of those nights. “This match wasn’t a 6-1 for me,” Hay said afterwards, “The 
Panthers were clinical in their finishing, while we couldn’t take the chances we needed at the right time.”

Capitals regrouped well after losing two goals in the opening two minutes, with Matt Francis turning in David Clarke’s chance from close range after 51 seconds, quickly followed by the same scorer skating from one end of Murrayfield Ice Rink to the other to put the puck between Caps’ netminder Tomas Hiadlovsky’s legs for Nottingham’s second.

Edinburgh settled into the game and found their way to goal as Peter Holecko’s stinging drive forced Panthers’ goalie Craig Kowalski to drop the puck, allowing Marcis Zembergs to skate in and tuck it into the visitors’ net. Sadly the absence of Rene Jarolin in the offensive line was increasingly more noticeable as Capitals found chances, but couldn’t 
finish them.

The match remained in the balance for much of the second period, but Nottingham soon found another gear and Jonathan Weaver’s shot into the top left hand corner of Hiadlovsky’s net on a powerplay restored the two-goal advantage, as Curtis Leinweber sat out for hooking.

A minute hadn’t even passed when the Elite League leaders added a fourth as Stevie Lee played in Francis, who took his chance inside the Capitals’ 
circle on the left of the rink and he was celebrating a hat-trick as Edinburgh’s night had 
started to unravel.

The Caps hoped for a break that didn’t come in the third period as the Panthers clinched the win, with David Ling despatching a terrific shot beyond Hiadlovsky from 
Brandon Benedict’s inside 
pass. Matthew Myers’ sixth towards the end caused some 
controversy as the goal was given by the referee, despite the goal judge not putting his light on to indicate a score.

Hiadlovsky was spitting with rage as he threw his stick at the plexi-glass in anger and he continued to berate the officials for what he deemed to be an injustice. In fact, he was lucky not to be punished for misconduct, such was the level of his dissent.

Player/coach Richard Hartmann was unhappy with call, but he preferred to look more at his team’s profligacy instead of the referee’s actions.

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He said: “The goal judge didn’t put the light on to give a goal, but the referee and linesmen gave it even though they were standing in the neutral zone. We can’t say it’s about referees. I would say it’s more about what we didn’t do.

“One way to look at it is 
we’ve lost 6-1 at home, but 
in other ways, we played all night long and the guys played well. We may have created plenty of chances, but we did not take them and that was the difference.”

It wasn’t a bad weekend for the Capitals as they returned from Sheffield on Saturday with two points for the second time this season after beating the Steelers 3-2 on penalty shots. Peter Holecko and Curtis Leinweber got on the scoresheet in a tight game that needed Brent Pantry’s coolness to score with the crucial penalty shot as clinch the points.

With only three weeks of the campaign left to play, the Caps will need plenty of cool heads as the season reaches its climax.