EIHL 2014 Playoff Review
There is a fresh feel to the EIHL playoffs in 2014. The absence of Coventry, Cardiff and winners of the past 3 Nottingham has made many fans more excited than usual. Those 3 absentees though has given the league many headaches over ticket allocations but that is a post for another day.
In many eyes there will be 2 favourites for the semi-finals and one of those is the favourite for the final. Belfast and Sheffield are no strangers to the playoff finals and the Giants have been unbelievable this season. However it is not as clear cut as you may think.
Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers
The Giants league form speaks for itself as they ran away with the league title with over a month of the season remaining. They were hot favourites for the Challenge Cup too last week but after a 5-2 win in the home leg lost the tie on penalties. As expected they did win their quarterfinal comfortably after that though but it does offer a question mark over the sides confidence. That wont be helped by going back to the NIC.
For the Flyers it is a first visit to the EIHL playoff finals and no matter what happens the oldest club will make history by being the first Scottish side to play in an EIHL playoff semi-final. Despite being the 8th seed the Flyers are on great form. A 4-1 away win in Dundee set up this match up but going back through month of March the Flyers stormed up the league table from 9th spot. Wins over Edinburgh, Braehead and Cardiff all showed that this is a team clicking at the moment. The way of the fixtures may have helped though with the Flyers playing mostly within their own conference at the end of the season.
This semi will not be as straightforward as you may think. The Flyers have had a good record against the league champions this season. The sides met twice in March with Flyers picking up 3 points including a 6-2 victory the last time the sides met. That though was in Kirkcaldy in front of a vociferous crowd but I would suspect many in the NIC on Saturday afternoon will be routing for the Flyers.
Sheffield Steelers v Braehead Clan
The Sheffield Steelers reached the playoff finals after missing out to the Hull Stingrays last year. They were on impressive form on Tuesday night as they thumped the Coventry Blaze 6-1 on home ice to comfortably go through. The Steelers have had good form in the league and some big wins that helped them secure second place. No doubt they will be buoyed by their penalty shots victory over the Belfast Giants in early March too. However there is a cloud moving in and that is in the shape of the Braehead Clan and their coach and ex Steeler Ryan Finnerty.
The Clan have been much improved this season and the their record against the Steelers is excellent. Ryan Finnerty will be reminding his side of the 2 early season victories in Sheffield. However the Clan did lose the 2 matches in Renfrewshire between the sides. The biggest thing for the Clan will be that victory over the Panthers and the manor in which they dumped the holders out. A huge 9-1 scoreline was far more than anyone predicted and in another couple of 1 off games if the Clan can pull that out again they could well be 2014 playoff winners.
It is hard to see past the Giants for the first semi-final. I would expect them to have learnt their lessons from the Challenge Cup final and beat the Flyers reasonable comfortably. The second semi-final though will be closer and I am going to predict a Clan victory by odd goal. That performance and playing in the late game though will be too much on Sunday and that will play into the Giants hands. I am going to predict a Giant win and the treble for 2014.
However anything can happen.