Elite League preview: Title picture still unclear

The Elite League enters its penultimate weekend of the regular season with the destination of the title still unknown.

Sheffield Steelers head to Nottingham Panthers on Saturday holding a two-point lead at the top of the table, while on Sunday they return to home ice to face Coventry Blaze.

Steelers could win their final four games and still miss out on the title, but Head Coach Paul Thompson doesn’t think that will happen.

He said: “It’s up to us. If Cardiff win out and we win out, Cardiff will come top because of regulation time wins – but they play Belfast Giants three times – will they really win all three of those?

“Games at Nottingham are always great affairs, a full house, plenty of passion. We have won in that building, and there has been some good games.

“But we’ve got to want it more on Saturday. This is going to be about what we do, not about anybody else.”

Devils host the Giants on both Saturday and Sunday looking to end a four-game losing run which included defeat in last weekend’s Challenge Cup final against the Panthers.

Netminder Ben Bowns believes the Devils can bounce back to claim the league title.

“We are the best team in the league, so why not?,” said Bowns. “If we play like we can and stick to these systems then we are going to do it.

“There is not one player in this league that I would swap for anyone in our dressing room. The commitment is there, the effort levels are there.

“Maybe we need to be a little more clinical in the defensive zone and offensive zone, but that is about it. If everyone just does what they can, then we are not going to have a problem.”

Giants are five points off top spot with a game in hand and anything less than four points this weekend is likely to signal an end to their title hopes.

Player/Coach Derrick Walser says his team will give it their best shot: “Everyone counted us out a couple of weeks ago and I’m pretty sure people are counting us out now,” he said.

“All we have got to do is just believe. Trust me, we are going to Cardiff, we’re going to put out our best line-up and it helps that at the minute we are pretty much 100% happy.

“We’ll try to win one game at a time and see where we are after the Cardiff weekend and hopefully we still have a shot at it.”

Panthers are a point behind the Giants with five games to play, but need to recover from a disappointing loss at Coventry on Wednesday.

They follow up Saturday’s Steelers game with a trip to Fife Flyers on Sunday and Head Coach Corey Neilson is looking for a big improvement.

“We were beaten by a very good Coventry Blaze team,” said Neilson. “They dominated us in every aspect you can imagine. Some of the guys are down and they’re hurting. They certainly care – we all care.

“We’ll get back to the drawing board and come Saturday we’ll look to get back to our best – certainly better than we were at Coventry.”

Use any of these hockey betting sites over the course of the weekend to check out the latest odds from all the games.

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Saturday

Braehead Clan v Manchester Storm
Cardiff Devils v Belfast Giants
Edinburgh Capitals v Dundee Stars
Nottingham Panthers v Sheffield Steelers

Sunday

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

(Image permission: Mick Johnson)

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