Javier Fernandez will need a big performance in Saturday's free skate if he's to retire with a seventh European Figure Skating Championship title.
The Spaniard was disappointed to finish third on the opening day of his final competition.
Russian skaters took the top two spots in Belarus, with Mikhail Kolyada dominant in the short program.
The PyeongChang 2018 team silver medallist took the 'small gold medal' and a clear advantage in the battle for the overall crown in Minsk.
Fellow Russian Alexander Samarin was second, more than 8 points behind.
"Anything can happen in the free program too, it is not over," said Fernandez's coach Brian Orser.
Best European performance of the season
Kolyada went for quality over quantity in the short program.
He was rewarded for his clean skate, which included a quadruple toe loop, triple toe combination, triple Lutz, and triple Axel.
Skating to I Belong to You - Mon Coeur s'ouvre a ta voix by Muse, his score of 100.4 is the highest by a European and the third best in the world this season.
Alexander Samarin took a gamble in attempting a quadruple flip.
Despite being unable to execute it, the 20-year old earned 91.97.
That was an improvement on his previous best of 90.86, and enough for Samarin to take the 'small silver' medal and a solid position heading into Saturday's free skate.
Javier Fernandez's swansong got off to a positive start, but the 27-year-old took a step after his triple Axel and had to settle for third, with a score of 91.84.
Taking the ice last, the Olympic bronze medallist had the surprise factor after not disclosing his technical components publicly.
'Super Javi' had ensured he would be the most watched man in Minsk when he told the Olympic Channel Podcast that this competition would be his last.
But when his results came through, Fernandez appeared surprised and later voiced frustration with the judging.
''Definitely three weeks are not enough to prepare for one competition, but I actually did. Judges had slow motion, five points of difference. I don’t know what I missed in this ten months but I’m surprised,'' Fernandez said in the press conference.
Orser is hoping for a happy end:
"I want him to finish his performance and be satisfied and be happy and if it happens to win that’s awesome, but I want him to move on his life just with a good taste on his mouth, a good taste about the skating and about the system. The system has been good to him for all this years, so that’s where the focus needs to be and we’ll have a good chat with him about that."
One of the worst...
After taking fourth place in December's Grand Prix Final, Michal Brezina was disappointed to have scored 83.66 to finish eighth overall.
''This was probably one of the worst programs this season. I feel pretty confident that I can do it on Saturday,'' Brezina told Olympic Channel.
The Czech skater will have his work cut out on Saturday after putting his hand down twice in the short program. Brezina had been tipped for a podium place after feeling "refreshed" in the run-up to Belarus.
Pairs delight for France
In doing so, they became the first French team to be crowned European pairs champions.
The Grand Prix Final champions scored 149.11 in the free skate for a total of 225.66, nearly seven points ahead of their closest rivals Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov from Russia.