HULL STINGRAYS suffered what could prove a telling blow to their Gardiner Conference title hopes when they went down 1-0 at rivals Dundee Stars.
Going into their only game of the latest Elite League weekend, Hull had a degree of control regarding their title aspirations, sitting two points in front of a Stars team who, while having four games in hand, still had to face Sylvain Cloutier’s team three times.
But, as a result of Jack Maclellan’s game-winning powerplay goal at 29.05 in Tayside on Sunday night, it is now the East Yorkshire club who are doing the chasing with Dundee firmly in the boxseat and Hull having only three Conference games remaining in which to rescue their title bid.
Another potential problem for Hull is beginning to loom larger in the overall league standings with each passing week in the form of another of their Scottish rivals, Fife Flyers.
Several weeks ago, it looked likely that the Kirkcaldy club would join Edinburgh Capitals in missing out on the end-of-season play-offs.
But a run of five straight wins – extended by victories on the road in Edinburgh on Saturday and at Cardiff Devils 24 hours later – has given them a realistic hope of overhauling at least one of the three teams immediately above them – Hull, Cardiff and Coventry Blaze.
After the weekend, Fife still remain outside the top eight play-off spots. They are currently six points behind Hull but, crucially, have three games in hand. The meeting between the two Conference rivals in Hull on Wednesday, March 12 is now looking hugely significant for both teams.
And while disappointed with his team’s performance in Dundee, Cloutier is adamant his side have to believe they can still lift the Gardiner title.
“We were really disappointed with the result (in Dundee),” he said. “It was one of those games when nothing went our way. We had some chances but their goalie made the saves again.
“But we did not compete hard enough, it was one of the worst games we have played in recent weeks. They wanted it more.
“The conference is not over yet and you have to keep battling and hope other teams can do you a favour. We need to make sure we win those last three games in the conference but we also need league points too. The league is so tight all the teams need the points right now.”
Hull are next in action on Saturday when they host Dundee, who travel to Fife on Wednesday, again a game which will have a noticeable effect on the Stingrays’ conference and play-off hopes.
Sheffield Steelers enjoyed a mixed weekend, but remain in second place in the overall standings with recently-crowned champions Belfast Giants pulling further and further away with each passing weekend.
Acting player-coach Steven Goertzen was still missing for Saturday’s trip to Braehead Clan due to his continuing recovery from a serious concussion he sustained the previous week in Cardiff.
He missed out on a 6-3 win for the Steelers, but was on bench duty last night as the Steelers suffered a 3-1 reverse at home to Nottingham Panthers, their main rivals for the regular season runners-up spot.