NEWCASTLE Vipers’ chances of replacing the Stars in the eighth and final play-off spot in the league were dealt a blow on Tayside.
By beating the bottom of the table Edinburgh Capitals 7-2 at home on Saturday night, the Vipers had reduced the points gap between them and the Stars to five points, but were on course for defeat after 26 minutes when the home team went three ahead.
For the second night running, the Vipers could only ice nine skaters while the home team could call on the services of 17.
With netminder Charlie Effinger seeing a lot of the puck, the Vipers kept the Stars out for 17 minutes before Brent Hughes struck against his former side.
The Vipers paid for wasting four powerplay opportunities when on 24 minutes, with Mike Prpich sitting out a tripping penalty, the Stars doubled their lead via Jay Latulippe’s powerplay marker.
The same player got his second to make it 3-0 (26 minutes) before Toms Hartmanis hit his 19th goal of the season (27 minutes) for 3-1.
Hartmanis’ goal was one of only five shots Stars’ netminder Ladislav Kudrna had to face during a one-sided second period.
In the third period the Vipers had the benefif of four powerplays but could not get back into contention, leaving them with a 0-9 powerplay conversion rate.
Effinger was withdrawn to the bench when the Stars added lustre to their victory when Peter Cartwright shot the puck into the empty net in the final minute.
Effinger had made 41 saves to keep the possibility of a comeback alive for his depleted team.
On Saturday, a short-range strike from Prpich in the opening minute put the Vipers in the driving seat against the Capitals and they never relinquished it, finishing comfortable winners.
Two powerplay successes by Jaroslav Rzeszutko (17 and 25 minutes) trebled the Vipers’ lead before a lucky in-off goal on 28 minutes, credited to Jordan Steel, ended the team’s hopes of securing a shut out.
After getting assists in all the previous goals, Hartmanis made it 4-1 with a rising shot from inside the right-hand face of circle on 31 minutes.
The Vipers then had to weather a small storm as the Caps scored a second goal hit home by Bari McKenzie (34 minutes), and mounted a number of attacks which threatened a further score.
Prpich’s goal put the Vipers three goals ahead again in the final minute of the middle period, before further scores by Kyle Sibley (43 minutes) and Jamie Tinsley (50 minutes) ensured the Vipers’ second successive home victory, their 10th in the league.
STARS: Latulippe 2+0, Cartwright and Hughes 1+0, Ceman 0+3, Nebus 0+2, Harper and Zarb 0+1.
VIPERS: Hartmanis 1+0, Rzeszutko 0+1.
VIPERS: Prpich and Rzeszutko 2+1, Hartmanis 1+4, Sibley 1+2, Tinsley 1+0, Stewart 0+4, Holland and Sample 0+2,
CAPITALS: McKenzie 1+1, Steel 1+0, Safar 0+2, Cingel 0+1.