Play-Off Quarter-Finals Weekend Preview

It’s probably the closest play-off quarter-final series since the format changed in 2007. It really is a tough one to call, who knows who will be playing on the ice above next weekend in the final four. To try and work it out, here is a preview of all four of this weekend’s match ups, starting with…..

Coventry Blaze v Hull Stingrays

1st leg Saturday 27th March Hull Arena
2nd leg Sunday 28th March Skydome Arena

The Elite League Champions take on 8th placed Hull for a place in the final four. Straight forward win for the Blaze you would think, but this Hull side are made of sterner stuff than previous seasons. Sylvain Cloutier’s side enjoyed a good end to the season and recently beat the Blaze 3-2 in a league match. They have match winners in Curtis Huppe and Konstantin Kalmikov, and they have improved in defence since the introduction of netminder Martins Raitums. I fancy the Rays to get a good result at home, after that, well who knows?

As for the Blaze, I wonder how much their Championship victory has taken out of them? They are still quality though, in Peter Hirsch they have one of the best netminders in the league and forward Adam Calder will want to go out on a high after taking the coaching position at new team Brahead Clan. This is no forgone conclusion though, on paper the Blaze should win, but I fancy that there could be a shock.

TCW prediction: Hull to reach final four

Belfast Giants v Newcastle Vipers

1st leg Saturday 27th March Odyssey Arena
2nd leg Sunday 28th March Whitley Bay

On paper this is perhaps the easiest tie to call, the Vipers have had a shocking second half of the season, finishing in seventh after being top of the pile earlier in the season. However they do have the players that can win them the tie if the Giants are off their game. Matic Kralj is as good as any forward in the league, in Michel Robinson they have a netminder capable of winning matches by himself and Jerramie Domish is a rock in their defence. But, injuries have crippled them throughout the season, British stalwart David Longstaff the latest victim of their injury curse. Add in that the Vipers have been less than impressive since moving to Whitley Bay and it could be a long, miserable weekend for the Vipers.

The Giants should win comfortably, they have quality right through their roster from Stephen Murphy in goal, Michael Jacobsen in defence, Colin Shields and Jeff Szwez in attack. The Giants steamrolled the Vipers 6-1 last Saturday and I can’t see this weekend being any different, I fully expect the Giants to make it to Nottingham.

TCW prediction: Belfast to reach the final four

Nottingham Panthers v Edinburgh Capitals

1st leg Saturday 27th March Murrayfield
2nd leg Sunday 28th March TrentFM Arena

I hate having to predict this one. Both heart and head say Panthers all the way, but there’s always that little bit of a nagging doubt hanging around like the smelly, unpopular kid at school who was always picked last for the football team! Panthers have had some serious injury problems in the final week of the regular season, which saw them ice against the Vipers without seven players from the regular squad. All are expected to be back for the 1st leg, but how fit/match sharp will they be? The Panthers will rely on their forwards to fire them into the final four and it is in this area that they can over power the Caps. If the Panthers can come away from Murrayfield with at least a draw, I can’t see the Caps being able to pull it back in the 2nd leg.

Edinburgh have enjoyed their best Elite league season and have an abundance of talent throughout their roster. As proved when they destroyed the Panthers 5-1 earlier in the season, they have the fire power to hurt us and in Corey Rudkowsky have one of the best netminders in the league. Many are predicting an upset in this one and they could be right. I am still going to go with a Panthers win overall.

TCW prediction: Nottingham to reach the  final four

Cardiff Devils v Sheffield Steelers

1st leg Saturday 27th March Cardiff Arena
2nd leg Sunday 28th March Sheffield Arena

This is the toughest one of all to call, so much so that I can’t actually stick my neck out and say which of them will make it. The outcome will depend on who wins the personal battles such as Mike Sgroi v Brad Voth, Stevie Lyle v Andrew Verner and Ryan Finnerty v Jason Hewitt (OK, that one is easy to call!) The netminders have a huge part to play in this tie, both are prone to stinkers and both can win a game, however Lyle has had a stronger finish to the regular season, posting two shut-outs. Voth will have to stamp his authority on the game in Cardiff, he can be awesome at the blue tent and has the ability to run a game on his own, but as we all know he can be prone to the ‘red mist’. The arrival of Sgroi has also seen the Steelers improve as there players have someone to back them up at the first sign of trouble. I expect this to be a fascinating contest, rather like a game of chess, but I just can’t pick a winner. Perhaps it will go down to the dreaded penalty shots?

TCW prediction: Cardiff or maybe Sheffield to reach the  final four!

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