By Kris Smith
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Semi-Final 1 Leg 1: (2) Coventry Blaze 0 V 2 Nottingham Panthers (3)
The opening match of the Elite Series Playoffs provided something that had not been seen in the regular season, a close game with few goals.
Both sides were cautious of making mistakes right from the off and quickly it was clear that this match would be played in a tactical way.
Neither side had broke the deadlock after the first period, with the Blaze outshooting the Panthers 12-5.
However, the opening goal eventually came in the 23rd minutes, as Kevin Domingue pushed home the loose rebound from Brett Perlini’s shot.
Nottingham still held their one-goal lead at the second intermission and were beginning to control most of the play.
In the third stanza, the goal drought would continue for both sides, up until the 56th minute, as Austin Cangelosi turned a cross-goal pass from Christophe Boivin past Shane Owen in the Coventry net.
The final buzzer confirmed the first leg victory and two-goal aggregate lead for the Panthers, but also the Elite Series first ever shutout, as Jackson Whistle saved all 30 shots that came his way.
Second Leg Preview
The two teams face-off again tonight and it is do or die for the Blaze, who need to recover that two-goal deficit quickly if they want to seize control of the tie and improve their chances of making the final.
However, after a tightly contested first leg, it will be both teams that need to come out swinging and Tim Wallace will be preaching his team to take a chokehold of the game right from the start and supress the Blaze’s high scoring offence, in order to protect their advantage.
Semi-Final 2 Leg 1: (4) Manchester Storm 4 V 5 Sheffield Steelers (1)
The second semi-final had a much different look as both teams stuck with what had worked for them before and they both went all out to try and get the early advantage.
Manchester were first to break the deadlock, as on eight minutes, Maxime Fortier broke clear and sent a swift finish under the legs of John Muse, on his return to action for the Steelers.
Although the Storm had the lead, it did not stop Sheffield from knocking on their door to find and equaliser and through their persistence, they were rewarded.
In the 19th minute, Sheffield defenseman, Sam Jones skated towards goal, delaying his finish, which took both the last defender and goaltender, Sean Bonar out of the play and allowed him to easily send the puck high into the net.
The second period had a much different temp as both teams came out with even more determination to score.
Tanner Eberle was the next name added to the scoresheet as he gave the Steelers their first lead of the night, beating Bonar on 22 minutes but again the scored would be tied as Fortier finished high past Muse for his second of the night, after 25 minutes.
However, the end-to-end scoring did not stop there as Sondre Olden’s effort restored the Yorkshire club’s lead in the 33rd minute and his teammate, Jeremy Beaudry then doubled their advantage four minutes later.
Despite, conceding two quick goals, Manchester did not change their approach and found another breakthrough inside the final two minutes of the period, with Fortier bagging his hat-trick.
With Aaron Fox’s men holding a 4-3 lead going into the third, they were keen to extend it once again and gain some breathing room to take into the second leg.
Eventually the eighth goal of the match came as Eberle beat Bonar once more by turning home Robert Dowd’s cross-goal pass on 50 minutes but again Ryan Finnerty’s side responded swiftly.
Jacob Lundell Noer found himself in the right place to corral the loose rebound from Andreas Klavestad’s shot and lift it past Muse, 81 seconds after they lost a fifth goal.
No more goals would be counted before the buzzer sounded to end the first leg but the Steelers came close to making it 6-4, as a last second effort hit the crossbar.
Second Leg Preview
Thursday’s match is set to be similar to the first leg with both teams going gung-ho straight from the start, as the next goal will be crucial to the outcome of this Semi-Final.
Sheffield would benefit massively from securing a two-goal lead but that guarantees nothing as Manchester showed their never say die attitude once again last night.
However, if the Strom scored the opening goal then the battles intensifies as the next goal after that becomes even more crucial, as would the third goal of that game.
Either way, whoever breaks the deadlock first on Thursday night, still has no easy task ahead of them.
(Featured and Banner Picture: Dean Wooley)