FORMER coach Ryan Finnerty stands between Sheffield Steelers and a first Elite League play-off final appearance since 2009 after Gerad Adams’s side swept Coventry Blaze aside at the Motorpoint Arena.
Leading 3-2 from Saturday night’s first round, first leg in Coventry, the Steelers overpowered the Blaze once back on home ice, winning 6-1 to give them a 9-3 aggregate triumph.
They will now face Finnerty’s Braehead Clan in the play-off semi-final at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre on Saturday, the Scottish club dumping out Nottingham 9-1 on aggregate in their quarter-final at the weekend.
In his two years as Steelers boss Finnerty couldn’t take them past the first round of the play-offs, but, last night, there was no danger of Coventry repeating last year’s surprise win over Sheffield.
A cagey opening few minutes produced little in the way of chances with Frank Doyle being the first to get a glove on the puck just before the five-minute mark. Steelers – missing influential forward Jeff Legue after he suffered a broken jaw in Coventry on Saturday, began to exert more control in Coventry’s zone and a neat move brought the opening goal at 8.24 when Stefan Meyer teed up Dustin Kohn who had time to pick his spot as he blasted a left-handed effort past Mike Zacharias.
Coventry began to threaten but the better chances continued to fall Steelers’ way, Zacharias called into action to deny Nate DiCasmirro before blocking Drew Fata’s stinging shot from the just inside the blue line.
The Coventry goaltender continued to be the busier of the two goalies in the second period but, following a Blaze timeout at the halfway point - coach Marc LeFebvre hoping to slow the game down as his side struggled to clear their zone - three goals in under five minutes settled the tie.
First Gord Baldwin’s 20-yard effort doubled the lead on the night when it was deflected in at 30.51 by Robert Dowd, who then made the most of a neat feed from DiCasmirro just under three minutes later to make it 3-0.
Before Coventry had time to regroup, they found themselves 4-0 down when Maxime Lacroix found himself all alone in front of goal to blast one over Zacharias’s right shoulder and into the net.
Trailing 7-2 overall, the game seemed up for Coventry, but they gave themselves slender hope of a comeback when Ross Venus pulled one back at 41.52.
But the Steelers were able to deal with whatever Coventry tried to throw at them and, with just under six minutes left, they restored their four-goal cushion on the night with Kohn’s second, this time on the powerplay thanks to a nice set-up from DiCasmirro, who picked four assists on the night.
Danny Meyers then got in on the act, blasting one past a helpless Zacharias through a crowd of players from the blue line.
The overall aggregate winning margin was a fair reflection of Steelers’ superiority on the night, with captain Steven Goertzen believing that Saturday’s 3-2 win in Coventry had set the right tone ahead of Tuesday night’s return leg.
“It was a great win. I thought we played a great game in Coventry, which is a tough building and always a hard place to play,” said Goertzen.
“We had the edge coming in to the game at ours and we were happy with that and we knew that coming back to our rink, the big ice suited us and we’re a fast team and we put ourselves in a good situation but, at the same time, we knew we had to come out and execute tonight.
“I don’t think what happened last year was on anyone’s minds really. It’s a different season and a different group of players. I suppose maybe it factored in a little bit - there were 20 guys who were really disappointed after going out last year and not making it to Nottingham but, from what I’ve heard, it’s a really great weekend and something that we really wanted to be a part of.”
Period Scores: 1-0, 3-0, 2-1
Penalty Mins: She 0+6+0=6, Cov 0+6+2=8
Powerplay: She 2/2, Cov 0/1
Shots On: Frank Doyle 3+6+11=20, Mike Zacharias 7+18+11=36