EIHL playoffs: Finals weekend preview

Semi-finals

#2 Cardiff Devils v #8 Coventry Blaze

The Welshmen just edged past the Dundee Stars on Sunday. They netted the couple of goals needed in the last period to progress into the final four 6-5 on aggregate. The seventh seeds exceeded expectations in the Cardiff Arena winning the first-leg 4-1. Andrew Lord’s side lived up to their regular season billing. Andrew Hotham and Joey Martin (the league leaders in assists) set up the goals required to progress.

Blaze became the first eighth seed to knock out the champions and they did so in some style. The Sheffield Steelers were 4-0 down after the opening 25 minutes. The talent shone through and managed to make it respectable clawing it back to 5-3. Coventry made the 90-minute journey to Yorkshire knowing they could get beat by one and qualify for the semis. Even with that safety cushion, it was looking like Chuck Weber’s team were going to miss out. However, like their upcoming opponents, they got the job done in the last period. Scoring twice to level it up at three each.

Devils won six of the eight regular season matchups against Coventry. This includes the one contest at a neutral venue. Cardiff knows how to perform in the cups and that will likely see them edge past the Englishmen.

#4 Nottingham Panthers v #6 Fife Flyers

The Gardiner Conference runners-up beat the two-time reigning champions over the weekend. However, they needed overtime to do so at the Braehead Arena.

After a thrilling Fife comeback in the final 81 seconds of the first leg, the same tense affair played out in the second instalment. Braehead levelled the tie up twice at home with efforts either side of TJ Caig’s strike. The Canadian deservedly won the man of the match with his second and decisive strike in overtime.

Panthers beat out the Belfast Giants to secure home field advantage at the National Ice Centre. Overcoming the fifth seeds 7-4 on aggregate. Nottingham was 3-2 down in the first tie but turned it around late as they took a one-goal lead over to Northern Ireland.

Nottingham and Fife only met four times in the regular season with the home team coming out on top on three of the four occasions. With that in the mind, Corey Neilson’s men will likely reign supreme and go onto the final.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

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EIHL playoffs: Quarter-finals preview

Seven of the eight teams returned to the playoffs this year. The exception being the now defunct Hull Stingrays. Their vacancy was filled by 2015’s worst side, the Dundee Stars.

Braehead Clan and Cardiff Devils switched seedings as have Coventry Blaze and Fife Flyers.

Edinburgh Capitals missed out again as they dropped from ninth to 10th. Newcomers Manchester Storm fell away in the concluding few weeks and finished ninth.

2014/15 winners Coventry will be looking to repeat their post-season win when the action gets underway on Saturday night. Three of the four reverse fixtures will take place on Sunday evening. Belfast Giants v Nottingham Panthers commences on Monday.

In Nottingham, the one-legged semi-finals will be contested on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, the third-place game and the final.

Quarter-Finals

#1 Sheffield Steelers v #8 Coventry Blaze

Sheffield won the regular season title, but they lost six of eight matchups v Coventry. Steelers won the first and last matchup of the campaign.

Both sides split the points at Sheffield Arena. Blaze are unbeaten when coming face-to-face with Paul Thompson’s men at SkyDome. I can foresee the reigning playoff champions “upsetting” the Yorkshire outfit.

#2 Cardiff Devils v #7 Dundee Stars

This matchup pits the best defence against the best offence in the country. Netminder Ben Bows had conceded 139 while the Stars scored 200 in the 52 fixtures.

Both squads earned four points against one another. Although, the Welshman beat out their Scottish rivals in the two-legged Challenge Cup tie.

Steve King has already led his team to a final in the cup this year and I expect him to coach his way out of the first round.

#3 Braehead Clan v #6 Fife Flyers

Braehead is the form side in the division. They have won their last seven fixtures to lift the conference title. On their way to becoming back-to-back Gardiner champions, they bypassed their post-season opponents, Fife.

Todd Dutiaume got the better of compatriot Ryan Finnerty this season winning four out of six meetings.

Although, this is a bad time for Flyers to be playing their Renfrew-based rivals. The Kirkcaldy outfit has lost their final three and momentum is with the west coasters. However, I would not be surprised to see the Clan bow out at this stage.

#4 Nottingham Panthers v #5 Belfast Giants

The two closest matched seeds provide the toughest to call tie of the first round. Belfast and Nottingham had seven encounters. The English outfit won four and lost the final two.

Giants ended on a high with three wins to secure the fourth spot from Panthers. Nottingham had lost their last two and six of their previous 10. Oddly enough this malaise has taken place after the Challenge Cup victory.

Corey Neilson should guide his men into the finals weekend, but only just.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.