Sheffield v Hull: First Semi Final
The first game of the 2015 Elite League ice hockey playoff weekend far exceeded expectations as the clear underdogs, Hull Stingrays, more than held their own against the odds-on favourites Sheffield Steelers in a highly physical and thoroughly entertaining game.
With very little between the two teams, Sheffield looked the stronger and edged the first period despite neither team scoring and it was a lot closer than most people expected. Nearly 2 minutes of 5 on 3 in Sheffield’s favour was negated through a combination of courageous defending and excellent netminding.
After a Sheffield goal had been washed out for high sticks (the refs went to the TV replay and what seemed an age, decided there had been an infringement) Hull took the surprise lead mid-way through the second period and that only seemed the provide Sheffield players with increased impetuous as they piled on more pressure getting the breakthrough from a blue liner looping shot from Hay.
You sensed this could be an opening of the floodgates as Sheffield continued to look the stronger and they poked home a go-ahead goal with a couple of minutes left in the period.
Final period was a tense and close affair, mirroring the pattern of the game so far. When Hull found a way to tie it up with a shot into the top corner, the dream was back on.
With both teams going close, Sheffield hitting the post and having the better of the chances, it looked like overtime was on the cards when the softest of penalties was called against Hull with 30 seconds remaining. This gave the Steelers a vital powerplay opportunity, which they took full advantage of; firing home the game winner with 3.8 seconds left on the clock.
Heartbreak for the Hull players and fans and a cruel way to end what was a tremendous effort after being largely written off before the game started.
Belfast v Coventry: Second Semi Final
The second semi-final always looked on paper as though it would produce the closer game, but with Hull putting on such a strong performance in the first of the day’s games, this one had a lot to live up to.
The patterns as it turned out, were very much the same. Belfast slightly the better side but the teams went in level at 1 each after the first period. Coventry’s goal being awarded following a video referral as the goal judge hadn’t seen the puck fly in and out of the goal so hadn’t lit the lamp. The Coventry players were sure they’d scored and remonstrated with the officials while play continued. Seconds later play was whistled down and the referees could check the footage and award the goal.
The game slightly lacked the intensity shown earlier in the day, but it remained a physical affair and it continued to be close in the second period with chances at both ends until Belfast went ahead on with a shot that ended up sneaking past the Coventry netminder.
It got scrappier as the game went on and Coventry tied the game in the final period with a peach of a strike into the top corner of the net. Overtime and penalties were always on the cards in this match and with Stewart in the Coventry net finding some great form over the last few games, you fancied they could nick it in a shoot-out.
Sheffield v Coventry: Final
A breathless first period came to a close with Coventry taking an unexpected 1-0 lead into the intermission having been the better side in all areas of the ice. The game was physical and tough and Coventry were winning the battles in the corners and breaking down the Sheffield attack in the neutral zone time after time.
When Sheffield did get through they were met with extreme resistance by Stewart who was standing tall in nets. The Yorkshire team looked rattled in the first period, but their heads must have been spinning in the dressing room at the end of the second as Coventry ‘blazed’ their way to a 4-0 lead with just one period to go.
Sheffield clearly came out in the third to target Stewart and they ran him several times without the Blaze defencemen being tempted into dropping the gloves. The breakthrough came when Stewart was way out of his crease retrieving his stick that had been kicked from his grasp. Roy picked up the puck and shot from his own half into the empty net.
Another quick Sheffield goal followed while shorthanded as a clearly upset Stewart appeared to be calmed down by referee Darnell. All the momentum was with the Steelers and it was game on just 6 minutes into the final period.
Despite intense pressure from Sheffield, the Blaze players and goalie regained some degree of composure and managed to hang on for a well-deserved victory.
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