Experienced heads will prove crucial for Stingrays

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GOALTENDER Christian Boucher admits there have been some low points in Hull Stingrays’ Elite League campaign, but is convinced the club has the quality required to produce a positive end to the season.

Still best-placed out of the bottom four clubs to clinch the last two play-off spots, Hull go into Saturday night’s game against Nottingham Panthers hoping to edge themselves a touch further towards the post-season.

And they should expect some kind of a backlash from Corey Neilson’s team who, just 24 hours after spanking Belfast Giants 5-1 in the first leg of the Challenge Cup final lost 8-3 to Hull’s play-off chasing rivals Dundee Stars.

The result increased the need for Hull to secure their play-off berth sooner rather than later, with Dundee - currently sitting one place outside the top eight play-off places - now six points behind with two games in hand and a last-day visit to Hull still to come.

And with eighth-placed Edinburgh Capitals not expected to take anything out of their home double-header against title-chasing Belfast Giants this weekend, anything Hull can gain from their encounter with Nottingham will be welcome, although Boucher expects the Panthers to come out flying after their unexpected defeat in Scotland.

“When a team suffers a loss like that, they always come out hard in the next game, so we know it’s going to be tough,” said Boucher.

“They rested their No 1 netminder (Craig) Kowalski against Dundee, so I think we can certainly expect to see him back.

“The last time they were at our place (Nottingham won 9-3), we were short on numbers but it was 3-3 going into the final period until they got a couple of quick goals and it was game over after that.

“But we always raise our game at home - particularly against the top three teams - and with a few more bodies back on the bench you never know.”

The return last week of top scorer Jereme Tendler from suspension and defenceman Martin Ondrej, provided a timely boost to Stingrays’ line-up, who were unlucky to return empty-handed after a 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Steelers before beating Fife Flyers at home 7-5.

Since the departure of former captain Josh Mizerek, Hull have been running one import light and, combined with injuries to key players and the suspension of Tendler, having enough bodies to compete effectively for three periods was always a problem, one which Boucher admits caused frustration in the squad.

“We haven’t had the best year, but we have to get confident going into the play-offs, we need to make sure we hit a little hot streak in these next few games,” added Boucher, who has been the second busiest goaltender in the league this season, having an average of 38.4 shots fired on him each game, although with a save percentage of 89.9 per cent he is currently rated as a top-six goalie.

“We’ve got the experience and the quality in the room and it’s up to the older guys to show the leadership to get us to the play-offs and maybe cause a surprise.

“There was a time a few weeks back when we were on a losing run, short on bodies and it got pretty frustrating. We were getting frustrated with each other in practice and it wasn’t the best time.

“But the weekend where we did the double over Dundee was definitely a turning point for us as I think we’ve put in some good performances since then.”


Twitter: @philarra