EIHL Playoffs: Let The Fun Begin

“I only know one story. But oftentimes small pieces seem to be stories themselves.”
― Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind

EIHL Super Sunday is over, and the playoff matchups are decided. Belfast will take on Hull, Dundee will face Fife, Sheffield confront Coventry and Braehead take on Nottingham in two-legged elimination games for the right to head to Nottingham for finals weekend, after a pulsating final day of the regular season that saw an unbearably tense game in Coventry, a raucous sellout crowd celebrate an incredible comeback in Fife, Hull once again beat Sheffield in their own rink to save their season (although this time it didn’t end Sheffield’s) and heartbreak for Cardiff. It also saw teams go in and out like demented Hokey Cokey dancers before Cardiff had their hopes all but destroyed with an OT winner from Michael Henrich.

You’d think after a day like that, everyone would take a few days off to recover, but preparations are already in full swing for the playoffs-in fact, they start on Thursday with Nottingham taking on Braehead.

And with these playoffs, the best thing about them is the number of storylines. Every single team and game has their own unique “selling point” to follow. Let’s have a run through each team:

Belfast Giants: THE GRAND SLAM CHASE

The Giants have been all-conquering this season, and barring a BIG comeback from Nottingham on Tuesday, they’ll be league and Challenge Cup champions. With the Erhardt Conference also theirs, a playoff title would see them go one better than Nottingham’s “Grand Slam” and win every possible competition. The Giants have rolled over all opposition up until now-can anyone stop them?

Dundee Stars: THE SURPRISE PACKAGE

The Stars have been one of the stories of this season: Jeff Hutchins’ team have surpassed all expectations for much of this season, and battled several key injuries in their time to finish a superb third (and second seed). Now they have a chance to be only the second Scottish team to reach the EIHL finals weekend since the Elite League’s inception. Can they bring a superb season to an end with silverware?

Sheffield Steelers: THE QUEST FOR REVENGE

The past two seasons have seen Sheffield not even make it out of the EIHL quarter-finals-beaten by Coventry last year and Hull the year before-a state of affairs that simply isn’t acceptable for one of the biggest clubs in the EIHL. This year has again seen them fail to live up to expectations, but with another tie against Coventry in the quarters, can they take revenge on the Blaze for dumping them out last year?

Braehead Clan: THE GREAT PRETENDERS

In only their fourth season in the league, the Clan have already become one of the best-run, best-supported and bigger teams in the EIHL. But up until now, they haven’t managed to convert any of that into a genuine push for silverware beyond their own conference. With a playoff tie against Nottingham, the “original” team of their owner Neil Black looming, can the problem child beat the Panthers and overturn the family status quo?

Nottingham Panthers: THE LAST CHANCE

The Panthers have, by their own admission, not got anywhere NEAR the heights of last season. Thanks to a combination of injuries, inconsistent or even downright silly play (yes, I’m looking at you, Brent Henley), they’re in real danger of following up winning everything by…winning nothing. With a tricky tie against Neil Black’s “other” team Braehead in the quarter finals, too, there’s a real danger the Panthers might not be in attendance at their own hometown party in two weeks time. Can they get there-and if so, can they end the season on a high?

Coventry Blaze: THE REDEMPTION QUEST

This Blaze team has flattered to deceive all year. Despite a roster that looked like it could compete for the title pre-season and one of the most electrifying players in the league, this is a team that had high expectations and met exactly none of them. They were one Cardiff goal away from not making the playoffs for the first time since coming to Coventry, in either the BNL or EIHL…even now, 6th is their equal worst finish in the EIHL era.

But with a horrific incident in the final seconds of Sunday’s game, the Blaze found their rallying point-a nasty check from Matt Myers left star forward Shea Guthrie unconscious on the ice and, although it’s since been confirmed that the Canadian is OK, whether or not he’ll play again this season depends on medical assessments this week. Even if he does, the “do it for Shea” cry is a powerful motivator for a squad who have taken their fair share of stick this season and are now left with the playoffs are their only chance for any sort of redemption.

Fife Flyers: THE FREIGHT TRAIN

Fife are the team nobody wants to play right now. The Flyers were eleven points out of the playoffs in January, but an incredible end to the season saw them overhaul that gap with unlikely win after incredible comeback after hard-fought victory, and now, as they come into the playoffs, the historic Kingdom is screaming its defiance and Fife is united as one behind Todd Dutiaume, Danny Stewart and their band of brothers. With a massive Scottish derby against local rivals Dundee as their quarter finals, there is probably no more motivated team in the EIHL right now, nor any trickier opponent, particularly in the Auld Barn in Kirkcaldy. Last year, they very nearly derailed Nottingham’s chase for a treble, only being knocked out by a disputed loss in Nottingham that Fife fans still burn with injustice about to this day. This year, the Flyers are coming, and they’re bringing hell with them. Just how far can they go?

Hull Stingrays: THE UNDERDOG

The Stingrays have the toughest draw, only making the playoffs on the last day of the season thanks to a win v Sheffield and results elsewhere. But the team from the North East have proved that they’re no respectors of reputation, as proved by the fact that they’ve beaten every team this season. Now, they stand in the way of the juggernaut that is this season’s Belfast Giants. Can they meet the challenge, or will power prevail?

There’s the storylines for all eight EIHL PO teams. This week we’ll be previewing one quarter-final a day up until Friday, starting with The Grand Slam Chase v The Underdog (Belfast v Hull) on Tuesday. Keep an eye out, EIHL fans.

It’s playoff time. And there’s a whole new set of stories waiting to be written.

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Day Of Destiny: The Complete Guide To The EIHL’s Final-Day Frenzy

Well then. Earlier in the week, I produced a long, complicated guide on how the final weekend could workout in the EIHL’s playoff race. Incredibly, going down to the final day, any one of four teams (Coventry, Cardiff, Fife and Hull) could finish 9th and miss out on the playoffs. Here are the standings going into the final day, after Coventry lost in regulation at Sheffield and Fife pulled out an incredible, heart-pounding win in Braehead on penalties:

6. Coventry (52)

7. Cardiff (51)

8. Fife (51)

9. Hull (50)

With one game left, ANY of these four teams could miss out on the playoffs. Here are the fixtures and FO times:

Coventry v Cardiff (5:15 pm)

Hull v Sheffield (6 pm)

Fife v Braehead (6:30 pm)

As we can see-if you’re a Blaze fan or a Devils fan, there could potentially be one heck of an anxious wait for you…

Now, based on the way things are worked out in tiebreakers for the last (8th) place if the two teams are level on points, here is how the head to heads look:

IN ANY TIEBREAK, HULL WILL BEAT THE OTHER THREE.

If Coventry and Hull are level on points, Hull finish 8th (on regulation wins)

If Fife and Hull are level on points, Hull finish 8th (on regulation wins)

If Cardiff and Hull are level on points, Hull finish 8th on regulation wins (on regulation wins)

If Coventry and Fife are level on points, Coventry finish 8th (on regulation wins)

If Coventry and Cardiff are level on points, Coventry finish 8th (on regulation wins)

If Cardiff and Fife are level on points, Cardiff finish 8th

If they are level due to a FIFE and CARDIFF OT loss, Cardiff finish 8th

Anyway. Let’s get into the meat of it, shall we? Simple truths first:

If Hull lose in regulation, they’re out. If Hull DON’T get an equal or better result than that of Fife, Stingrays are out. If Blaze get ANY points v Cardiff, they’re in.

So-here’s your scenarios, for those tricky scenarios where Cardiff take at least a point and Hull win:

Fife win, Cardiff win (in regulation), Hull Win (at all): COVENTRY MISS OUT

Fife Win, Cardiff Win (in OT), Hull Win: HULL MISS OUT

Fife Win, Cardiff Lose in OT, Hull Win: CARDIFF MISS OUT

Fife, Cardiff Lose In OT, Hull Win: CARDIFF MISS OUT

Fife Lose in OT, Cardiff win in regulation, Hull win: FIFE MISS OUT.

Confusing? Yup, just a bit. The simplest thing if you’re a Fife, Hull or Cardiff fan is-your team has to win to be sure of getting in. And hope.

Here, summarised, is what each team needs:

COVENTRY need at least a point. If they don’t get it, they’re in danger if both Fife & Hull win.
HULL need a better result than Fife or Cardiff.
FIFE need a better result than Hull.
CARDIFF need a better result than Hull OR Fife.

The four hours between 5:15 and 9:15 pm on what is already being called EIHL Super Sunday are going to be one hell of a wild ride…buckle up, EIHL fans…and use #eihlsupersunday on Twitter to keep up with the scores as fans update from around the EIHL.

Game on.

Do Or Die: Breaking Down The EIHL’s Explosive Final Weekend

CAESAR: “The Ides of March have come” SOOTHSAYER: “Aye, but they have not yet gone”

William Shakespeare: “Julius Caesar”

“And no matter how hard I play, Neverland never seemed so far away”

Ashbury Heights: “Beautiful Scum”

Last weekend marked the Ides of March, a date that has lived long in history for the (previously predicted) murder and fall of an emperor. While we didn’t see any blatant murder on the ice in EIHL play (although Brent Henley attempting to remove Cale Tanaka’s head through whiplash with a cross-check was a pretty good go at an assassination) we did see Fife confound any predictions of the killing of their playoff hopes. But as the soothsayer hinted to Caesar, the danger of the Flyers’ season being dealt a fatal blow isn’t gone yet. Nor is it gone for Hull, Cardiff, or Coventry.

The EIHL playoff race is going to the final weekend. And no matter how hard they fight this weekend, one of Coventry, Hull, Fife or Cardiff is destined to fall by the wayside in the closest playoff race we’ve seen in the EIHL for a good few years.

So-let’s break this thing down. All the way down.

STANDINGS:

Coventry: 52 points, 2 games left (SAT: Sheffield away, SUN: Cardiff at home)

Cardiff: 51 points, 1 game left (SUN: Coventry, Away)

Hull: 50 points, 1 game left (SUN: Sheffield, at home)

Fife: 49 points, two games left (SAT: Braehead away, Sunday, Braehead at home)

There’s the situation now. Now-let’s look at how things will work, as we dive into a labyrinth of tiebreakers, possible outcomes and heartbreak. One thing we do know-the race will be going down to the final day.

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. If Fife lose both games, they’re out of the playoffs. If Coventry take at least a point, they’re in the POs.

Right then. With both those truths already self-evident, it starts to get complicated. Let’s break it down. Thankfully, on the Saturday we only have to consider two games.

SATURDAY

If Fife lose in regulation in Braehead or Coventry take a point, then the fight comes down to Fife, Hull and Cardiff.

However, if Sheffield DO win in regulation and Fife take a point of any kind, then we have a four way fight on the final day for three playoff places, and any one of four can still miss out.

SUNDAY

Again, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way early. Irrespective of the results the night before, any point gained by Coventry against Cardiff will see them through. However, since we’ve said that if either Fife lose on Saturday or Coventry take a point then it’s a three way fight, let’s first assume that Coventry lose in regulation on Saturday, & Fife win in regulation. Also, given that Coventry are playing Cardiff on the final day, any Cardiff result is obviously the reverse for Coventry. Now then-to run through ALL the possible final-day scenarios. Let’s start with the easy one:

1. Fife lose, Cardiff lose in regulation, Hull lose in regulation:

Final Order: Coventry 54, Cardiff 51, Fife 51, Hull 50 (HULL MISS OUT ON POINTS)

2. Fife lose, Cardiff lose in OT, Hull lose in regulation

Final Order: Coventry 54, Cardiff 52, Fife 51, Hull 50 (HULL MISS OUT ON POINTS)

3. Fife lose in OT, Cardiff win in regulation, Hull lose

Final Order: Cardiff 53, Coventry 52, Fife 52, Hull 51 or 50: HULL MISS OUT ON POINTS

4, Fife win, Cardiff win, Hull Win:

FINAL ORDER: Cardiff 53, Fife 53, Hull 52, Coventry 52. COVENTRY MISS OUT ON REGULATION WINS

5. Fife win, Cardiff win, Hull win

Final Order: Cardiff 53, Hull 52, Coventry 52, Fife 51: FIFE MISS OUT ON POINTS

If Fife have won in overtime on Saturday, does that change anything should they end up level on points with any of the other three? Yes-because it means that if Cardiff and Hull or indeed all three end up level on points, the Devils are out.

Now let’s assume Fife (either) and Coventry (in regulation) have both lost on Saturday.

If Fife lose in regulation both nights, they’re out irrespective of other results. If Coventry gain a point from Cardiff, they’re in.

However, if Fife have gained a point in Braehead, things are still very much open and any one of three can still miss out:

5. Fife win (in regulation), Cardiff win, Hull win

Final Order: Cardiff 53, Hull 52, Coventry 52, Fife 52: FIFE MISS OUT ON RESULTS V COV

6. Fife win, Cardiff win, Hull lose

Final Order: Cardiff 53, Coventry 52, Fife 52, Hull 51 or 50): HULL MISS OUT ON POINTS

Fife lose in OT, Cardiff win, Hull lose in OT:

Final Order: Cardiff 53, Coventry 52, Hull 51, Fife 51: FIFE MISS OUT ON REGULATION WINS

Fife lose in OT, Cardiff lose in OT, Hull lose in regulation:

Final Order: Coventry 54, Cardiff 52, Fife 51, Hull 50: (HULL MISS OUT ON POINTS)

8. Fife lose in OT, Cardiff lose in regulation, Hull lose in regulation:

Final Order: Coventry 54, Hull 51, Cardiff 51, Fife 51 (FIFE MISS OUT ON REGULATION WINS)

9. Fife lose in OT, Cardiff lose in regulation, Hull win:

Final order: Coventry 54, Hull 52, Cardiff 51, Fife 51 (FIFE MISS OUT ON REGULATION WINS)

10. Fife win, Cardiff lose in OT, Hull win:

Final order: Coventry 54, Hull 52, Fife 52, Cardiff 52 (CARDIFF MISS OUT ON TOTAL WINS)

11. Fife win, Cardiff lose in regulation, Hull win:

Final order: Coventry 54, Hull 52, Fife 52, Cardiff 51 (CARDIFF MISS OUT ON POINTS)

12. Fife win, Cardiff lose in regulation, Hull lose in OT:

Final Order: Coventry 54, Fife 52, Hull 52, Cardiff 52: (CARDIFF MISS OUT ON REGULATION WINS)

Phew. That’s a hell of a workout to keep track of, isn’t it? You might want a crib sheet for that one.

Obviously this has been compiled from me looking at the EIHL table and trying to work out every possible scenario, so there may be gaps. But if you go in armed with this to the EIHL’s final weekend, you should know which team is going to be the one left bleeding on the floor with their playoff hopes murdered by the end of it.

Prepare your nails, EIHL fans-it could be a very long and tense final day.

Four Into Three Won’t Go: The EIHL Playoff Race Heats Up

The Belfast Giants may have won the league title, but that doesn’t mean that the EIHL is merely playing out its string before the playoffs get going in a few weeks-on the contrary, in fact. With only thirteen points separating second and ninth places, this is one of the closest EIHL seasons yet below Belfast’s runaway success at the top, and there’s still a dogfight going on for playoff quarter-final seedings as everyone tries to give themselves what (in theory) would be the easiest possible game.

However, the real story is down at the bottom end of the table, where there’s one hell of a scrap developing for the playoff spots. Between Coventry in 6th and Fife in 9th, there are a mere five points, with only three of the four teams able to make the post-season. There’s also one hell of a scrap for the Gardiner Conference trophy (and thus the 2nd seed in the playoffs) with only three points between Dundee, Braehead and Hull (however, with three games in hand at the top of the conference table Dundee definitely have the advantage in that fight). There’s even a chance for Hull that they could finish in ninth in the final league table but make the playoffs by virtue of being the conference champions, forcing the team finishing in eighth out of the post season, such is the insanity of the EIHL seeding/points-scoring system.

Here’s the current situation down at the bottom:

6. Coventry (48 points, 5 games left, possible maximum 58)

7. Hull (46 points, five games left, possible maximum 56)

8. Cardiff (45 points, 5 games left, possible maximum 55)

9. Fife (44 points, 7 games left, possible maximum 58).

Above this group, there’s a gap of four points to Braehead in 5th, so although we can’t rule them out of being dragged down into this group, they need to win three of their remaining 6 games to assure themselves of a playoff place, and so realistically, their danger of missing the playoffs, while still there, is slight.

Let’s look at these four teams individually as we try and work out which one of these will be the unlucky ones.

COVENTRY: Remaining fixtures: Dundee (H), Cardiff (A), Nottingham (H), Sheffield (A), Cardiff (H)

Despite being the team currently in sixth place and thus supposedly the most well-placed, the Blaze are a team who probably have one of the toughest run-ins this season-all the teams they face have beaten them more than once this season and having to face Nottingham and Sheffield in two of potentially the most important games of the season does them no favours, as well as a Dundee side for whom every point counts in the Gardiner Conference race. The two games that stand out massively, though, are those against the Devils…they’re both playoff-race four-pointers for both teams. The Blaze need to win at least three out of these five to be assured of a playoff spot, and really need to win both against Cardiff. If not, then they could find themselves relying on other teams to keep their heads above playoff water.

HULL: Remaining fixtures: Sheffield (H), Fife (H), Dundee (A), Sheffield (A), Sheffield (H)

There’s no two ways about it-every game for the Stingrays right now is a do-or-die affair. Facing Sheffield three times in the last five, they HAVE to take a result in at least one of those, either in their next game or in a potential “win or go home” game on the last day of the season. The game that stands out above all others, though, is the Flyers’ visit next weekend. A win for the Flyers in that game could deal a bodyblow to the Stingrays’ playoff hopes and destroy the slim chance they have of qualifying as Gardiner winners once and for all. For the Stingrays now, every game is a potential elimination game, and every loss will simply squeeze the noose tighter.

CARDIFF: Remaining fixtures: Belfast (A), Coventry (H), Braehead (A), Edinburgh (H), Coventry (A)

The Devils are currently the team on the hot-seat, and like Hull, will need every point they can get to make the playoffs. Belfast away is a nightmarish start to their run-in, but the two games against Coventry stand out like beacons in this set of five. Like the Blaze, the Devils simply cannot afford to lose either of them if they want to keep their playoff destiny in their own hands…the only positive for them is that Hull have to face Sheffield three of five times-those in South Wales will be begging the Steelers to do them a favour if they win any less than four out of five. Devils fans will be on tenterhooks for every single game-with a potential last-day playoff decider in Coventry already standing out as  a truly monumental scrap waiting to happen.

FIFE: Remaining Fixtures: Edinburgh (H), Nottingham (A), Hull (A), Dundee (A), Belfast (H), Braehead (A), Braehead (H)

The Flyers are currently the ones missing out on the playoffs, but have the advantage of a one point gap to eighth and four possible points (two games) in hand-take a point from either one and they’ve potentially closed it. It’s not an easy run-in by any means, with Belfast, Nottingham and a double-header against Braehead making up four of their remaining seven. With four of the seven remaining games also on the road, they face a task just like all the other teams-one that they have to approach full-bloodedly and fighting tooth-and-nail for every point. However, given that they were eleven points back from the playoff positions just a few weeks ago, the Flyers have already scared the living crap out of the teams above them. The biggest game of these already stands out-it’s the game in Hull next weekend. Win that, and the Fifers will take a massive step towards a playoff spot.

So who misses out?

Hull fans are in by far the most dangerous position at the moment-however, if they can win their two remaining Gardiner Conference games they will put some pressure on Dundee and Braehead for the title, gain a vital two points on Fife and switch all the pressure onto the Devils and Blaze not to lose-lose either of those, however, and the door narrows massively.

Fife are arguably the team most in control of their own destiny-all they have to do is win their game in hand and match the results of the teams closest above them (currently Cardiff and Hull), and they’re in. Beating the Stingrays would be a massive step towards completing an incredible chase for the playoffs.

Coventry will be looking over their shoulders-they’re currently in the best position in the table but lose either one (or, in the worst case, both) games v Cardiff and they’ll be right back down in the mire. It is still very possible indeed that the Blaze could miss the playoffs altogether if they take a single mis-step.

Cardiff, too, will be panicking. Lose those two Coventry games and they’ll be watching Hull’s results with eagle eyes, as the Stingrays are the ones who could most likely be the ones to drop out of the playoff spot right now. However, they’ll be hoping the Sheffield Steelers and Fife Flyers both do them a massive favour if they do so.

Simply put-the playoff points mark is already set right now-if any of the teams reaches 55 points over the next three weekends, they’re guaranteed to be in. But that will change on a daily basis.

Right now, more than any time, points mean playoffs. And losing could mean you go home.

Buckle up, EIHL fans. It’s gonna be one hell of a playoff race.