Elite League preview: Final Four are ready

Cardiff Devils head into the Elite League Play-off Weekend in Nottingham looking to put two big disappointments firmly behind them.

Devils finished second in the league behind Sheffield Steelers during the regular season, and they also missed out on the Challenge Cup after losing the final against Nottingham Panthers in overtime.

The Welsh club looked set for heartbreak in the play-offs too after losing 4-2 at home to Dundee Stars in the first leg of their quarter-final, but they bounced back in the reverse fixture with a 4-1 win to secure a 6-5 aggregate victory.

Player/Coach Andrew Lord says he was proud of the character shown by his team.

“It’s been a long, exhausting season for all teams and right now the key factors are finding ways to win when teams are banged up and tired,” he said.

“We have two more games in us for sure. The guys are energised after that win in Dundee last Sunday. That was a special night and no matter what happens this weekend I will always look back on that match with a sense of pride in the players.

“They were awesome, they are energised and that will help us going into the play-offs.

Devils face Coventry Blaze in Saturday’s first semi-final having won six of their eight league meetings this season, but Lord expects a tough battle.

“Blaze are solid and get the little details right – they are a completely different team now than they were at the start of the season,” he added.

“The difference is almost ridiculous. They play a defensive style, restricting grade ‘A’ opportunities in front of the net, and their goalie (Brian Stewart) is playing phenomenal.

Blaze sealed their place in Nottingham after defeating league champions Sheffield Steelers 8-6 overall.

Chuck Weber’s team are the reigning play-off champions and he is hoping for a repeat performance.

“We are prepared and looking to finish what we have started – I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

“It was a lot of fun last year and for us to go to Nottingham twice in the last two years is a privilege.”

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Fife Player/Assistant Coach Danny Stewart believes the Flyers are ready to claim their first ever Elite League play-off title.

Last weekend’s 4-3 aggregate success against Braehead Clan saw Flyers claim a semi-final berth for the second time in three years.

Their opponents, the Panthers, have won three of their four previous games this season but Stewart says they have nothing to fear.

“The mood is great in camp right now – we battled against a very good Braehead team back to back nights and were rewarded for our efforts with a birth in the play-off finals weekend,” said Stewart.

“We got back to work this week and by no means are satisfied with what we have done. We are going down there, just like every other team is, to win that trophy.

“Our preparation changes a bit in the sense of who we are playing, but the same principles and work rate apply for the upcoming weekend and focusing on what we do best ourselves.”

“I think we are more balanced then we were two years ago and stronger at the back end. We’re solid at the back and Browny (David Brown) has been stopping pucks for us.

“Our forwards are also better playing both sides of the puck, so I think we have a bit more confidence in ourselves then last time we were there.”

Panthers eased their way into semi-final with a 7-4 overall victory against Belfast Giants, and having claimed the Challenge Cup in March Head Coach Corey Neilson is confident they can pick up another trophy.

“We’ve proven that we can lift our level to the stage and this is a huge stage,” he said.

“It’s the hardest thing to win. It’s four games and you get to a situation where everyone is playing desperate, everyone is putting body and hearts on the line. It’s pretty special.

“It’s an amazing event and I’ve touched on it with the players before the play-offs saying that this is something you want to be part of.”

Premier Sports are showing the semi-finals and final live – for further details please click here.

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Saturday – play-off semi-final

Cardiff Devils v Coventry Blaze (1.00pm)
Nottingham Panthers v Fife Flyers (5.00pm)

Sunday – play-off final

Winners of the above matches (4.00pm)

(Image permissions: Adrian Rapps & Fife Flyers)

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