Edinburgh Capitals will head into Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final second leg with everything to play for after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield Steelers at Murrayfield.
Despite a strong performance against last season’s Elite League champions, Edinburgh will be disappointed not to take a lead down to Yorkshire after experienced Steelers forward Guillaume Desbiens scored a late equaliser with less than three minutes to play.
Edinburgh goalie Travis Fullerton and Sheffield counterpart, Latvian internationalist Ervins Mustukovs, can hold their heads high after sterling performances earned them man-of-the-match awards for their respective sides.
Caps won an early power-play, the first of eight awarded to them on the night by match referee Pavel Halas, but it was Sheffield who almost opened the scoring as Fullerton did well to deny Jonathan Phillips on a short-handed breakaway.
After some nice set-up play by the Sheffield forwards, attack-minded blue-liner Christoffer Bjorklund should have scored but he blitzed a powerful effort wide. In a free-flowing opening to the match, Caps broke up ice immediately and it took an excellent Mustukovs stop to deny Jared Staal.
With Pavel Vorobyev in the penalty box for hooking, Caps did well to kill Steelers’ only power-play of the match. And, on ten minutes, Mason Wilgosh looked bemused as his goal-bound effort from the slot was brilliantly saved by Mustukovs.
Edinburgh looked the better of the sides in the opening period and took a deserved lead in the 16th minute, Ian Schultz showing nice patience on the puck, drawing both defence and goalie out of position before setting up the on-rushing Mike D’Orazio to score into an unguarded net.
Steelers looked stronger after the interval and almost equalised within a minute of the restart, Robert Dowd’s effort coming back off the post. Two minutes later, Fullerton, with a fantastic pad save, denied Phillips from just five feet out.
Caps were still creating chances of their own, Mustukovs at his agile best to deny both Michal Dobron and Matt Tipoff with a fine double save.
Sheffield enjoyed a great spell of pressure on the half-hour and it finally told when Desbiens equalised, firing a wrist shot high past Fullerton at 33 minutes and 10 seconds after Caps were outmuscled trying to clear their defensive zone.
Just as Sheffield grabbed a foothold in the game, they became their own worst enemy, gifting Edinburgh with three straight power-play opportunities. However, despite a string of chances, Caps failed to take advantage.
As Sheffield’s indiscipline spilled over into the third period, Caps finally grabbed a power-play goal in the 43rd minute, Vorobyev firing home after being set up Taylor MacDougall. The goal judge failed to turn his light on. However, referee Halas was in a good position and deemed the puck had crossed the line.
Steelers pressed in the last 15 minutes, out-shooting Edinburgh 15 to nine in the final period, and finally a great burst of speed from Phillips took him away from Edinburgh’s defence and his clever reverse, cross-ice pass was finished by Desbiens for his second of the game at 57 minutes and 15 seconds.