IT was always going to be a tall order for Hull Stingrays to overcome Nottingham Panthers in the Elite League play-off semi-final and so it proved as they were hammered 10-3 at the National Ice Centre on Saturday night.
The margin of victory was perhaps a little cruel on the East Yorkshire club, who had booked their final four weekend slot after a memorable 7-4 aggregate triumph over Sheffield Steelers last weekend.
But they were rarely a threat to Corey Neilson’s defending play-off champions, who will now meet Cardiff Devils in Sunday’s final, after they earlier defeated regular season champions Belfast Giants 4-3 after a shoot-out.
Afterwards, Hull player-coach Sylvain Cloutier remained proud of his players, despite them never reaching the heights of last weekend‘s two quarter-final performances.
“We wanted to go out there and do our best and, while it might not have been our best, I’m still proud of the guys for how they’ve performed in getting here,” said Cloutier.
“We were never going to give up and I‘m not criticising my guys and maybe some of them froze a little bit, but for us to accomplish getting here still makes me very proud.”
As expected Nottingham came out flying but, for all their pressure, couldn’t find a way past Christian Boucher until the ninth minute when David Clarke took advantage of a lapse in the Hull defence and rapped one past the Hull netminder.
Hull managed to go in at the break just one down, but their heads dropped deeper just over two minutes into the second period when strikes from Marc Levers and Sami Ryhanen put the defending play-off champions three goals clear.
The underdogs managed to settle down after the third goal and created more offence, something which paid off on the power play at the halfway point when neat work by Derek Campbell saw him go behind the net before feeding Jason Silverthorn at the far post to make it 3-1.
Any hope of a Hull comeback was quickly ended, however, when Clarke found his range again just over a minute later from 15 yards out.
It got worse less than two minutes later when a giveaway by Jereme Tendler enabled Rhett Gordon to make it 5-1.
Nottingham’s five-goal lead was extended further six seconds before the end of the second when Matthew Myers’s prod took a kind deflection off a Hull defender and past the unfortunate Boucher.
Hull came out for the third with renewed vigour and pressured from Kurtis Dulle saw the puck fall to Campbell, who was able to tap into an open net with Craig Kowalski already committed.
But Nottingham soon restored their five-goal lead with Clarke’s hat-trick strike before David Beauregard made it 8-2 at 47.37.
Robert Lachowicz added a ninth in the 51st minute and the Nottingham fans’ demand for 10 goals was met when Jordan Fox struck at 54.28.
Cloutier grabbed a third for Stingrays which produced a big cheer from the crowd, the majority of which had been supporting them, but it was little consolation for the Stingrays who had not been able to match their heroics of a week earlier.
In the earlier play-off semi-final, Elite League champions Belfast Giants were beaten 4-3 in a shootout by the Cardiff Devils, who had at one stage led 3-1 in the third period.