Playoff Final Match Review

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It was the odds on final that most people expected but probably didn’t want to see. Sunday at the Elite League Playoff Weekend saw a slightly larger crowd and the TV cameras (not sure why they aren’t interested in the semi-finals as well). It also saw a bizarre combination on the stage of a brass band with an average age of about 80 sat behind cheerleaders with an average age that is probably not for contemplating thinking they’d just died and gone to heaven.

The first period was edgy with both sides feeling their way into the game, but still quite open without creating too many clear scoring opportunities - although the Giants outshot the Steelers 15 to 7 and edged the period despite finishing it on the back foot.

The Panther fans used the time to go through the repertoire of anti-Sheffield songs, widely joined in by neutrals, and Sheffield’s attempts to deride the Panthers with ‘where’s the Nottingham Panthers’ chants backfired when it was picked up by the Nottingham faithful and chorused throughout the arena.

Drew Mata took a hefty deflected shot to the face and it was disappointing to hear a minority of Nottingham ‘fans’ cheering while he was struggling to get off the ice. Fortunately he was able to continue after some treatment.

The second period started with Sheffield being given a powerplay for a tripping call on the amusingly named Dustin Whitecotton. A strong penalty kill from Belfast saw them safely through the two minutes and promptly get their own powerplay leading to intense pressure on Doyle and the Sheffield defence, finally getting the breakthrough at 24:24 with defenceman Cody Brookwell slotting home.

The go-ahead goal seemed to spark the game into life and shortly after Meyer was checked heavily Murphy directed a rebound into the path of Phil Hill to net the equaliser. Two minutes later Belfast were back in front as man of the match Shields scored unassisted.

With the temperature rising Hewitt and Lloyd had a coming together and Doyle repels numerous efforts on goal before an altercation between Dowd and Higgins led to some extreme pressure on the Belfast defence and Dowd squeezed the game tying goal through with 2 and a half minutes left in the second period.

The sides went into the second intermission with Sheffield firmly on top and looking to maintain the momentum for a final big period.

The noisiest fans in the third were the Braehead contingent as a number of their team came into the bowl to watch the game leading to riotous cheering from the purple army.

A tense atmosphere was not improved when the goal light went on half way through the period by mistake as Sheffield went close and the final ten minutes were end to end as both teams looked for a winner with Sheffield ending the stronger and going very close on several occasions.

With no additional scoring it was into a 20 minute overtime session and it seemed Belfast were beginning to run out of steam as Drew Fata blasted home just a minute and a half into the period to spark the celebrations on and off the ice.

It was an entertaining game, open and end to end with very few penalties giving the referee little opportunity to affect the flow of the match. Two solid netminding performances although Murphy didn’t quite equal the level he’d set on the Saturday as Doyle was immense.

A very close game that genuinely could have gone either way but with Sheffield claiming the final trophy of the season the honours were shared out evenly this season, which given the dominance of Belfast in the league, was something of a welcome surprise.