Stingrays earn themselves timely play-off boost

HULL Stingrays posted a four-point weekend to blow the race for the Elite League play-offs wide open with only three weeks of the regular season remaining.

Two wins for Sylvain Cloutier’s team have helped change the complexion of the standings in both the overall league and the Gardiner Conference.

After earning an excellent 2-1 overtime win at Braehead Clan on Saturday, Hull returned home to defeat Fife Flyers 3-1 on Sunday.

The four points gained take them to within a point of eighth-placed Braehead in the overall league table, while also enjoying a game in hand. But, perhaps more tellingly, the win over Fife - combined with a 3-0 defeat for Braehead at Dundee Stars - moved them two points clear at the top of the Gardiner.

If Hull can stay top of their conference – and it has to be noted that all their rivals have games in hand, in Dundee’s case five in all – they will automatically qualify as a top three seed for the post-season, regardless of their position in the overall league standings.

It leaves open the possibility that Hull could conceivably finish bottom of the league, yet still make the play-offs because of a successful conference campaign.

While clearly delighted with his team’s ability to extend their winning streak to three games, player-coach Cloutier refused to get carried away by one successful weekend.

“It was a massive home win and we have kept our home winning streak going which is all we can do,” said Cloutier. ““To get a four-point weekend was massive for us. But we just need to keep plugging away every weekend from hereon in and see where it takes us.

“We’ve got to stick together, stay positive and just make sure we stick to the system, do our job and do the best we can.”

Defenceman Shane Lovdahl proved to be Hull’s inspiration against Fife, picking a perfect night to score his second and third goals of the season, before Jason Silverthorn added an empty-netter in the final minute.

Lovdahl struck first on the powerplay at 12.32, although the Flyers - who had lost in all three of their previous visits to Hull Arena - levelled through Bobby Chaumont six minutes later.

Lovdahl’s second came at 29.45 and that was how it stayed until Fife pulled goaltender Bryan Pitton, allowing Silverthorn to poke home a third for the home side into the resulting empty net.

On Saturday, it was captain Kurtis Dulle who struck the decisive blow, hitting the game-winner 14 seconds into overtime to end a nine-game losing streak on the road for Hull.

Ash Goldie had put the Clan ahead with a powerplay strike at 6.56 and it was nip and tuck throughout at both ends until Jereme Tendler picked the perfect moment to register his 40th goal of the season at 47.07.