ON what was an ominous trip to the City of Discovery, there wasn’t much clarity uncovered for Braehead Clan in their search for a play-off final slot.

The team from Glasgow have only made it to the end-of-season showpiece once before, with them being knocked out at this quarter-final stage in the last two years by Hull Stingrays and Fife Flyers, respectively. At the Dundee Ice Arena last night in this first leg, Ryan Finnerty’s team were outbattled on the way to a 3-1 win for the Dundee Stars as their attempt to avoid making it a hat-trick took a worrying turn.

Finnerty took his team into the last eight meeting as second seeds as a result of regaining the Gardiner Conference, and therefore were favourites to progress to next weekend’s showpiece in Nottingham. What is clear though is their performance level and sharpness will need to greatly increase if that’s to happen.

Up against a Dundee team that’s never made it beyond the quarter-finals, they at times they looked out hustled by Marc LeFebvre’s men. The tight rink only played into the hands of the hosts, even if they did lose their shape in the third period as Clan pushed to tie the game going into this evening’s return at the Braehead Arena. However, the team from the west was to be hit by a suckerpunch 10 minutes from time which leaves their Nottingham hopes precariously dangling.

Braehead did create chances but a lack of sharpness at both ends was noticeable. The absence of Mike Hammond, the form player over the last stage of the regular season before his knee injury last month, become clear.

From the off Dundee started the sharper of the two and in just the second minute they made their intentions clear. Cale Tanaka’s cute reverse pass on a three-on-two counter attack freed up Joey Sides ghosting in on the left. The American got his shot away sharply for Michal Zajkowksi to save in the Clan goal.

The breakthrough was not far away though and arrived in the eighth minute. A slapshot from Brett Switzer could only be parried by Zajkowski across his own goal, and Justin Faryna was there to slot into the gaping net.

For all their lack of cutting edge, Braehead levelled just five minutes into the second period, and what a goal it was. Alex Leavitt, set to retire on the completion of this season, seemed desperate to extend his farewell by another weekend when he went on a solo mission from deep inside his own zone. After collecting a loose puck on the right, he meandered his way into the Stars third, jinked inside his marker to then loft the puck casually beyond Joe Fallon.

That brought Clan level and back into contention as the play raged from end to end, Kevin Bruijsten hitting the crossbar with a whipped shot for the hosts as the second period ebbed away. However, Stars were not to be denied a second before the end of play.

With only 39 seconds left on the clock and a player from each team in the penalty box, it was those in Blue who made the most of the building tension. A central shot from Felix Antoine Poulin was saved awkwardly by Zajkowski, leaving Mikael Lidhammar there to turn the puck in at the crease.

In the third period both sides missed when through on goal as Dundee tried to gain a cushion while Clan desperately searched for a leveller. In the end, it was the former who got their wish as Zajkowski, who had come on to a bit of a game by this point, was beaten once more.

It came with nine minutes to play from the stick of Vinny Scarsella at close range, leaving Clan with it all to do when the Stars come to a sold out Braehead Arena tonight.