So the regular season has ended, and hockey fans up and down the country are now looking to the finals weekend, whilst also putting the looming end of season far from their minds. The Phoenix have managed to finish a deserved third place in their debut season in the EPL. But a little of me thinks 'what could have been', the early season form from the Phoenix saw them top the table for a long stretch. Had the team not lost Steve Fone and the four lost to GB, who knows where this team could have finished. But third place is no bad place, especially as the Phoenix have finished above the other Elite team in the Bison, and ahead of the big spending Guildford Flames.
With 54 games now played the playoff quarter finals look like this:
Milton Keynes Lightning vs Swindon Wildcats
Slough Jets vs Sheffield Scimitars
Manchester Phoenix vs Peterborough Phantoms
Guildofrd Flames vs Basingstoke Bison.
Some raaaaaather interesting tie's there, so here is my own view of how the games will go and who will march on to finals weekend in Coventry. As all hockey fans know, league placings mean diddly squat come playoff time!
Im going to assume that the teams on the left, after finishing higher in the table, will all have 2nd leg home ice advantage.
Quarter Final 1 - Milton Keynes Lightning vs Swindon Wildcats
Not quite a forgone conclusion as many would think I believe! Yes MK won the league, and deservedly so, and yes Swindon finished in 8th place. But if you look at the past couple of games, MK have eased off and lost a few and Swindon have been in red hot form, turning the Phoenix over 10-2 on home ice. The key for MK in this tie for me, is to kill off the game in Swindon if they can. If Swindon win the first leg at the Link Centre it will make the return leg in the Thunderdome a tense affair. However if MK get the win, it should be a formality back in MK. The Lightning's extra class should see them home. However I say that with a big caveat, Swindon could well spring an upset, they are defiantly the form team in the EPL.
Prediction: MK to advance to Coventry.
Quarter Final 2 - Slough Jets vs Sheffield Scimitars
Again, much like MK vs Swindon, Slough really should deal with the Scimitar's quite easily. However when ever I look at the Jets they seem to be quite inconsistent. Despite this they have still finished 2nd in the league, and have some very very good players. Key for the Jets will be Slava Koulikov and Captain Blaz Emersic. They have, on many occasions, tormented the Phoenix no end, and will do so to the Scimitars. The key for the Scimitars will be to shut that top line down for Slough. As the Phoenix managed, you shut down messers Emersic and co, and you can deal effectively with the Jets. The Scimitars will have to be at their ultimate best to beat the Jets. In the games against the Phoenix, the Scimitars contribute to a great game, but don't seem to have the quality to really close down games for the win. The Scimitars are in the same boat as the Wildcats for me, the first leg in Sheffield will be pivotal. If Slamiar can have a great game and inspire the rest of the team they are in with a chance. It has to be a win or a close result in Sheffield before the tie goes back to Slough. Even so......
Prediction: Slough to make it to Coventry.
Quarter Final 3 - Manchester Phoenix vs Peterborough Phantoms
A tough one for the Phoenix, the regular season results went 5 wins to the Phoenix and 1 to the Phantoms, however as mentioned earlier playoff hockey is totally different to regular season hockey. Last years grand slam winners, while they have not had the same success this year, are still a very difficult team to breakdown and beat. Key man for the Phantoms is Stephen Wall in goal, this guy is brilliant. In a recent loss to the Phoenix at the Ice Dome, he single handedly kept the Phoenix at bay. It was only until that Wall (apologize for that!) broke that the Phoenix really shifted up a gear to win. The away leg in Peterborough will be tight, the last visit to the Phantoms home ice brought a narrow 2-1 loss for the Phoenix. Peterborough, much like Swindon, are a form team in the league. So I would take a 2-1 loss in Peterborough, knowing the Phoenix have the skill to win be a couple back in Altrincham. I do think recent Phoenix performance's, bar a couple, will mean the Phoenix could well win the first leg. The key will be to get through Stepehen Wall early. For the Phantoms, they have to keep it close in Peterborough, then play a stifling game in Altrincham. Even so, and even without the Phoenix tinted specs, I think the Phoenix have too much strength in depth for the Phantoms.
Prediction: The Phoenix to make it to their first finals weekend in Coventry.
Quarter Final 3 - Guildford Flames vs Basingstoke Bison
Phew, I am so glad the Phoenix have managed to miss falling into this quarter final! A proper tie of death! Guildford (the irresistible force) versus Basingstoke (the immovable object), the flair and skill of the Flames against the grit and determination of the Bison......any more.......? At their best the Flames are, you could argue, the best team in the league. But too much inconsistency has seem them fall behind the pace and end up fourth in the league. The Flames have the ability to carry imports and ice the required 4 at any time. This is quite a luxury to have! Their team is fast, skillful and in Adrian Saul and Martin Masa have two of the best players in the EPL. The Bison are no mug's either, and are a very difficult team to play. Lead by Steve Moria the Bison will be up for this and smell an upset. Moria, much like Tony Hand, can single handedly win a game for his team. Nicky Chinn, now a veteran of UK hockey, still has the skills and the ability to really get up the noses of the opposition. I do not know what the regular season split is between these two sides, but this playoff quarter final is difficult to predict. If Guildford want to, they should be able to win this tie. But if the Bison are able to get into the Flames early, maybe even open up a couple of goal lead at the Silverdome in Hampshire the Flames will find them difficult to overcome at home. So a difficult one to predict, but given the run in the Flames have had im going for an upset!
Predicition: The Bison......just! I just think the Flames are a little inconsistent and the Bison always make games difficult!
So there you have it.....my final four:
Milton Keynes Lightning
Let me know what you think, whether you agree or not!
Heres to playoff time!
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