EIHL: Play-off race with twists and turns to come

Manchester Storm v Guilford Flames (Pic: Mark Ferriss)
Manchester Storm v Guilford Flames (Pic: Mark Ferriss)

The sands of time are starting to trickle away for title ice hockey’s title hopefuls and play-off contenders.

While Cardiff Devils romp to a second successive championship with a nine-point lead and a game in hand over second top Belfast Giants, it’s what happening further down the table that is starting to catch the eye.

Coventry Blaze enjoyed a big four-point weekend with wins over Fife and MK Lightning (Pic: Scott Wiggins)

Coventry Blaze enjoyed a big four-point weekend with wins over Fife and MK Lightning (Pic: Scott Wiggins)

The race for the eighth, and final play-off berth, could go to the wire.

Right now it’s a head to head between Braehead Clan and Dundee Stars, but Coventry Blaze are not entirely out of the picture.

Clan’s four-point sweep of Stars at the weekend was massive. It gave them a five-point jump on Omar Pacha’s side that had been on a roll.

They celebrated former captain Matt Keith’s induction into the club’s Wall of Fame by skating to a fined 3-1 win on Saturday, and then grabbed a crucial 4-3 road win in Tayside on Sunday – former Fife forward Brendan Brooks firing a key double.

Braehead Clan v Dundee Starss (Pic: Al Goold)

Braehead Clan v Dundee Starss (Pic: Al Goold)

The gap gives Clan some breathing space, but they are not secure yet, and Coventry’s four-point weekend keeps them on the periphery should either of the Scottish sides stumble.

And in a season of strange results, anything could yet happen ...

Blaze were 3-2 winners in Fife, and then wrapped up a big weekend with a 4-3 victory over MK Lightning whose inaugural EIHL season looks like ending prematurely as they miss out on the play-offs.

Peter Russell’s newcomers have left themselves too much to do after failing to maintain their smart start to the league campaign. Lightning trail Stars by six points, and more importantly, Clan by 11.

The leading pack are all destined for the post-season competition – barring any disastrous collapses.

It’s a question of who finishes where to see how the quarter-finals shape up – and that’s where it gets interesting,

Manchester Storm have rekindled their early season form to post a six-game winning streak which has taken them back to third top, but Fife Flyers’ games in hand could change that – provided Todd Dutiaume’s side can negotiate a pretty tough closing run of games which include back to back three-game weekends. Crazy scheduling.

Storm, who led the league in the opening weeks, posted a big four-point weekend which included a 3-0 shut out of Guildford Flames. It was netminder Mike Clemente’s third clean sheet of the season.

They then followed that with a 6-3 win in Belfast – a result which was a major blow to the Irish side’s title bid.

Luke Moffat bagged a hat-trick for Storm who got off to the best possible start with a 3-0 opening period blitz of Giants.

Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers continued to make heavy weather of the fixtures as they thrash away in sixth and seventh respectively. There’s every chance they could go all the way to the finals and win it ... or not make the showcase weekend at all. It’s been one of those seasons.

Panthers endured a zero point weekend which included a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Steelers, Jonas Westerline netting a fine hat-trick.

A trip to Wales saw them take the lead against Cardiff Devils, and then ship seven straight goals to collapse 7-3.

And while they were suffering in the valleys, Steelers weren’t doing any better at the Spectrum where Guildford savoured a 4-2 win built largely around a hat-trick from Ian Watters.