Devils v Panthers – Challenge Cup Final 1st Leg Preview

The hottest hockey ticket on Sunday will not be at the Olympic final in Vancouver, but at a sold out Big Blue Tent as Cardiff Devils take on Nottingham Panthers in the first leg of the Challenge Cup Final (I may have lied a little there, especially if it is a USA v Canada final!)
If this match wasn’t intriguing enough, both teams will play at the NIC the night before in a league encounter. This makes Sunday’s game almost impossible to predict from my point of view, as I believe that the game on Saturday will have a huge bearing on Sunday’s outcome. The thing is with Panthers still in the title race and Devils fighting for third spot, Saturday isn’t a straight forward one to call either, especially when you consider that Panthers have the best home record in the league and Devils have won their last five games!
The Devils don’t have a too shabby home record themselves, they have lost six times in the tent this season, however two of those losses have been against the Panthers. The key to a Panthers victory will be to nullify Devils home advantage. I’ve only been to Cardiff once this season and I saw the Devils destroy us 6-2, where the Panthers were a distant second best, so I’ve seen first hand how awesome Devils can be at home. Panthers will have to keep it tight and not get intimidated by the sell-out crowd, who will no doubt create an electric atmosphere in an effort to be Devils extra man.
As for the players themselves, the pressure will be on both netminders to limit the goals against (pretty bloody obvious I know!) so the performance of both Stevie Lyle and KSP will be critical. I feel that the Devils shade the defence, with three imports to two if Nick Toneys is omitted, with the Brit defencemen cancelling each other out.
Where the Panthers are superior to the Devils is in attack, with the point scoring prowess of David Clarke, Sean McAslan, Jade Galbraith, Cameron Mann and Kevin Bergin. I’m not saying that the Devils can’t hurt us, Brad Voth is the perfectly built hockey player for a rink like the tent and irritating little shit Ryan Finnerty loves games like this. However, the Panthers can beat the Devils by firepower alone, so that’s why the performances of both defences and netminders will be key.
I really can’t call it, it’s that close. I think Panthers have to leave the tent no more than two goals behind to still be in it. Any more than that and Devils will shut us down in the return, which they are very capable of doing. So roll on Sunday, can’t wait, it should be a cracker.

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