Elite League preview: Clarke says Panthers have a lot to play for

Nottingham Player/Assistant Coach David Clarke believes the Panthers still have plenty to play for this season, despite their exit from the Elite Challenge Cup on Tuesday.

The Continental Cup holders trail Cardiff Devils by 21 points, but Clarke says the Panthers must keep trying to narrow the gap starting with this weekend’s double-header against Coventry Blaze.

“There’s a lot to do still – a lot to play for,” Clarke told the Nottingham Post.

“We have to finish the season well and continue to build. Every league game is important.

“There’s no way we can take time off and think things are beyond us. There’s a lot of hockey to be played.

“A lot can happen and we need to build that momentum and win games.”

Coventry boss Danny Stewart goes into the weekend with a selection headache after it was confirmed Kevin Noble and Liam Stewart will miss both games.

It was hoped Noble would return from injury, while Stewart is returning home to attend some pressing personal matters.

“I said last week that we would not see Kevin back on the ice until he is ready to go,” said Stewart.

“As frustrating as it is for all concerned, he still isn’t right. Nobody wants to see Kevin Noble back playing in a Blaze jersey more than myself.

“But he’s not ready, and therefore we simply will not risk him.

“Losing Liam is a real blow too. It’s bad timing, but we carry on regardless and we will be doing everything we can to get maximum points.”

Sheffield captain Jonathan Phillips believes the Steelers are still in the title race, although he accepts the team can’t afford any more slip-ups.

Cardiff’s remarkable 4-3 victory at Belfast Giants on Friday left the Steelers ten points behind the Devils with 12 games to play, but Phillips hasn’t given up hope of bridging the gap.

“We’ve used up all of our lives, if you like,” Phillips told the Yorkshire Post.

“All we can do is take care of business our end. Most people probably regard us as outsiders for the title now, but we’ve shown in recent years how we can come from behind.

“We’ve certainly got that belief we can do it again.

“We know we’re not in the perfect position and where we would like to be – it is always better to be sitting top and in control – but we have shown you can’t rule us out. I don’t think we’ve ever given in.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Saturday

Belfast Giants v Cardiff Devils
Fife Flyers v Dundee Stars
Nottingham Panthers v Coventry Blaze
Sheffield Steelers v Manchester Storm

Sunday

Coventry Blaze v Nottingham Panthers
Dundee Stars v Fife Flyers
Manchester Storm v Sheffield Steelers

(Image permission: Karl Denham)

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