Stingrays close gap on play-off rivals with three-point weekend

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THE weekend may have ended on a low note for Hull Stingrays, but every single point will be vital in their push for an Elite League play-off spot.

Sylvain Cloutier’s team eventually succumbed 8-7 in overtime in a see-saw battle at Dundee Stars, closing the gap by a further point to five on Braehead Clan, who occupy the eighth and final play-off spot.

And after a 5-1 thumping of the Stars on home ice 24 hours earlier, Hull returned from Scotland in the early hours of Monday morning marginally better off in their bid to make the post-season.

The extra point earned by Dundee on Tayside saw them move top of the Gardiner Conference, with Hull only two points behind them, albeit having played three games more. Topping the northern conference could yet provide Hull with an alternative route into the play-offs, although they need a number of results to go their way in order for that to happen.

On a seemingly madcap night on Tayside, the lead changes hands several times, while penalties proved to be a key ingredient of what was a vital game for both sides.

It ended with more heartache for Hull in the extra session, Matt Baxter’s goal coming with only with 18 seconds of overtime remaining. It means Hull have won just once on the 10 occasions that their league matches have gone into overtime. Don’t even mention the seven shoot-out defeats among those losses

It began brightly for Hull in Dundee when Jason Silverthorn put them ahead at 11.07. But they were 3-1 behind at the break after a power play strike from Sami Ryhanen levelled at 14.38 before former Hull forward Janis Ozolins gained some kind of revenge for being released by Cloutier two weeks earlier when he put his new team ahead at 17.10. The Stars doubled their lead when Baxter got his first of the night just 29 seconds later.

But the Stingrays roared back in the second period and by the 38th minute were 4-3 ahead. Defenceman Martin Ondrej struck on the power play at 24.50 before Cloutier levelled with his 11th of the season at 36.56. Silverthorn scored his second 37 seconds later with a shorthanded strike, although a power play effort from Billy Bagron at 18.47 tied things up again.

With only 54 seconds of the period remaining, Mike Wirll restored Dundee’s lead with a third power play goal of the evening for the home side.

The third period was just over five minutes old when Hull levelled again through Tom Squires’s seventh of the season, but another power play effort - this time from Pat Bowen, edged the home side ahead at 48.34.

That lead became a two-goal one again when Ozolins grabbed his second of the evening.

But Hull weren’t done yet. Dominic Osman made it a one-goal game again at 49.27 and, just over a minute later, captain Kurtis Dulle weighted in Hull’s second power play strike to make it 7-7.

The only remarkable thing was that there were no more goals before the end of 60 minutes and, as it looked like the game was heading for the dreaded penalty shoot-out, Baxter popped up at 64.42 to break Hull’s hearts.

It was all a lot more simpler the previous evening when the Stingrays enjoyed a comfortable 5-1 win over the Stars at Hull Arena.

As was the case on Tayside, Greg Blais deputised in net for Ben Bowns who was away on international duty with Great Britain at the Olympic final qualifying tournament in Latvia.

Two first period goals from the hosts set them off to a perfect start, with the opener coming from a five-on-three power play from the stick of Silverthorn at 7.20. A second came from Jereme Tendler, his 37th of the season, at 15.18.

The hosts doubled their lead with two in less than a minute from Osman at 26.40 and 27.34. The lead became five just over the halfway point when Squires pounced at 30.20.

The visitors got on the board with what proved to be nothing more than a consolation goal on the power play from A J MacLean at 37.52.