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Cardiff Devils Stun Belfast Giants, Claim Elite League Playoff Title

The Cardiff Devils upset the Belfast Giants to claim the 2021-22 Elite League Playoff title (Image: Dean Woolley)

Cole Sandford scored within two minutes of puck drop to propel the Cardiff Devils to a dramatic 6-3 win over the Belfast Giants in the 2021-22 Elite League Playoff Final.

Speaking after Cardiff lifted the trophy, interim head coach Brodie Dupont hailed his players’ bouncebackability following their Challenge Cup disappointment.

“It’s been a journey of ups and downs,” he told British Ice Hockey, “it feels like there’s been a new challenge at every corner. We believed the whole year that we deserved to win some kind of cup and we did it.”

Cardiff’s victory means they qualify for the 2022-23 IIHF Continental Cup, despite parting with former head coach Jarrod Skalde just weeks before the postseason began.

For the Giants, defeat at the Motorpoint Arena ended their hopes of becoming the Elite League’s first Grand Slam champions since the 2011-12 Nottingham Panthers.

2021-22 Elite League Playoff Final: Play-by-Play

Belfast, despite entering the final as favourites, started the match on the back foot, conceding twice in the opening six minutes of play.

Dupont’s Devils opened the scoring just 1:44 into the contest, with Cole Sandford turning a cross-crease pass into a lamp-lighter without a moment’s hesitation.

Jake Coughler doubled Cardiff’s advantage five minutes later on the power play, rocketing a shot into Tyler Beskorowany’s net from the top of the left circle. Sandford registered the primary assist on the play, sliding a pass between the Giants’ penalty killers to create a clear-cut opportunity for the Devils.

Belfast halved their deficit two minutes later while Cardiff’s Stephen Dixon served his penalty for interference. Griffin Reinhart, in his role as Keefe’s power play quarterback, dished the puck to Scott Conway on the top of the right circle, who smashed a one-timer into the roof of Mac Carruth’s net.

The ice tilted in the Giants’ favour at the start of the second period, with their offensive zone time leading Dixon to shoot the puck over the glass in his own end. Belfast scored on the resulting power play, demonstrating their potency at five-on-four. Ben Lake was the beneficiary of Tyler Soy’s smart play behind the net, unleashing a wicked shot into the top corner as Cardiff’s penalty killers scrambled across the rink.

Despite washing their two-goal deficit away, Keefe’s side were unable to maintain a stranglehold over the contest. Cardiff played with increasing physicality as the middle frame progressed and successfully knocked Belfast off their game.

With less than a minute remaining in the period, Cardiff retook the lead through Dixon – who was relieved to make up for his costly misadventures to the penalty box. He was assisted on the play by Trevor Cox and Mark Richardson, who lured Beskorowany out of his crease to create an unmissable chance for the Canadian forward.

The mood on Cardiff’s bench improved further shortly after the second intermission when the Giants were awarded a bench minor for having too many men on the ice. Brodie Reid scored moments into the Devils’ power play, whacking a one-timer beyond Beskorowany following a scrumptious seam-breaking pass by Josh Waller.

After seven minutes of solid defensive play from Cardiff, Belfast cut their deficit in half thanks to a deflected effort from Soy – whose tip caught Carruth clutching at air.

However, it wasn’t to be for the Giants, who conceded two empty-netters in the final minutes of play at Motorpoint Arena. Heartbreak for Belfast; jubilation for Cardiff.

Post-Game Quotes as Cardiff Claim Playoff Title

Speaking to British Ice Hockey, Cole Sandford credited Dupont for his role in Cardiff’s postseason turnaround.

“He’s been great,” the goal-getter explained. “He was in a bit of a tough spot: it’s not easy to step in [as head coach] so late in the season. He had quite the season with us: playing at the start, taking over as assistant, and then stepping up.

“You look at our D-Zone there: we bent but we didn’t break. There’s a lot of credit for Brodie.”

Cole Sandford scored from his knees to give the Cardiff Devils a 2-0 lead over the Guildford Flames in the Elite League Playoff Semi-Finals (Image: James Assinder)

Cole Sandford was integral to Cardiff’s Elite League Playoff title charge, scoring from his knees in the semi-final (Image: James Assinder)

Josh Waller, who assisted Reid’s powerplay marker, added: “Our fans have been awesome all year. Honestly, they’re the best supporters and to top it off with them and celebrate now is unbelievable. It’s hard to explain the feeling right now. I’m just super happy.”

Elite League Takeaways will be uploaded on Monday [2 May], including quotes from across Playoff Finals Weekend. Don’t miss it.

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