Elite League Playoff Bracket Set After Final Week Drama: EIHL Takeaways

The Guildford Flames celebrate scoring on the road versus the Manchester Storm (Image: Mark Ferris)
The Guildford Flames celebrate scoring on the road versus the Manchester Storm (Image: Mark Ferris)

The Elite League playoff bracket is set. After a frantic regular-season, the seeding race in the bottom half of the standings was determined during the final week of the campaign.

Victories for the Guildford Flames and Glasgow Clan saw them leapfrog the Dundee Stars and Coventry Blaze into fifth and sixth, respectively. And we’ve got a fascinating set of quarter-final ties to watch as a result:

However, it’s worth remembering that teams are reseeded after round one of the playoffs, meaning clubs that finished towards the top of the table have a double advantage in the post-season. In other words, the highest remaining seed will play the lowest remaining seed in the semi-finals.

That, in effect, makes a fairy-tale run to the finals less likely. If the Blaze were to knock off the Belfast Giants in the quarters, their reward would be a semi-final match up against the strongest remaining team. But that’s always how the cookie has crumbled in the Elite League playoff bracket.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the final week of regular-season action in the EIHL. There’s plenty to discuss.

Coventry Blaze the Big Losers in Race for Fifth

Danny Stewart’s Blaze started the week in possession of the #5 seed – and they completely blew it. In many respects, the writing was on the wall for Coventry on Wednesday [13 April] after the Nottingham Panthers thrashed them 9-1 at the Motorpoint Arena.

Danny Stewart, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins) | Elite League playoff bracket
Danny Stewart, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)

It was a revenge match for Mark Matheson’s side, who were hammered 10-4 by the Blaze on home ice earlier this month, and Coventry just didn’t turn up. C.J. Motte had a night to forget, leaking five goals on 26 shots before he was pulled to the bench in favour of Jordan Hedley.

In fairness to the American, it was a rough night for Hedley too – four of the 23 shots he faced found their way into the net. However, both netminders were abandoned by their blueline. Nottingham’s shot map tells the story:

The Coventry Blaze allowed too many shots from the slot versus the Nottingham Panthers
The Coventry Blaze allowed too many shots from the slot versus the Nottingham Panthers

Although the Blaze put up more of a fight at the weekend, they fell short twice against Belfast and Dundee. Sunday’s [17 April] overtime loss to the Stars stung Stewart.

“I thought the first period was really good,” he explained after his team’s 4-3 loss, “we started the second okay. They had a couple of shifts where we took minors, we did a good job on the [penalty] kill but they took a bit of momentum from there.”

The final week of the season will go down as a missed opportunity for Coventry. They started out as credible longshot candidates to finish fourth but sank all the way down to eighth. The playoff bracket is set against Stewart’s squad as a result.

Guildford Flames Surge Up the Standings

Aside from the Panthers, who tied up the #4 seed with their win over Coventry, Paul Dixon’s Flames were the big winners in the final week. Back-to-back victories over the already eliminated Manchester Storm were enough for to them vault into fifth in the table.

Sunday’s 4-2 win was particularly impressive, as Guildford demonstrated their effectiveness on the transition:

Winning the battle for fifth sets the Elite League playoff bracket in the Flames’ favour. They face Nottingham in round one, increasing their chances of a Playoff Finals Weekend appearance.

Glasgow Clan Prove Their Quality

Malcolm Cameron’s Clan had nothing to lose in the final week of the regular-season, they started eighth and knew results had to go their way if they were to climb. They did: Coventry’s nightmarish week opened the door for Glasgow to jump up the table, an opportunity they took ruthlessly.

On Wednesday [13 April], the Clan performed excellently in a 2-0 win over Sheffield.

“I’m always happy for the win, especially as it gives us the chance to move up the table,” Cameron said of Glasgow’s victory against Sheffield. “But, you know, we wanted that elusive 60-minute [performance] and when we go down into a two-game total goal playoff, you really don’t want to have any off periods because that’s when you lose your chance to continue to play.”

Although their level dipped a little, the Clan’s positive week continued through Saturday and Sunday. Back-to-back wins over the Fife Flyers were enough to see Glasgow claim sixth and set up a playoff meeting with the Cardiff Devils.

Dundee Stars Stand Still as Elite League Playoff Bracket is Set

Omar Pacha’s Stars ended the season on a high, beating Coventry in dramatic fashion at the Skydome Arena. Dundee trailed the hosts heading into the final minute of play but tied it up shortly before the final buzzer through hattrick hero Charlie Combs. The Scottish outfit won out in overtime, stealing the #7 seed from the Blaze.

“It was a complete rollercoaster, especially that third period,” Pacha said of Dundee’s win. “We knew we needed a point to be ahead of them, so that goal from Charlie [Combs] at the end was massive and to get the win was even sweeter. The way we battled tonight, the boys did really well.”

The Stars’ reward? A quarter-final meeting with Sheffield.

Elsewhere in the Elite League

Rookies: It was a positive week for Team GB prospects in the Elite League, with Mack Stewart, Carter Hamill, and Jack Hopkins putting up points.

Downie on the Move: With the Storm out of the playoffs, James Downie completed a loan switch to the Panthers. As it stands, he looks to be in control of the crease heading into the quarters.

Disappointment for Nottingham: Finishing the regular-season 33 points behind the champions makes 2021-22 the worst season in the Panthers’ EIHL history.

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