Elite League: Stingrays aiming to snuff out Blaze

IF Hull Stingrays are going to make it the Elite League play-off finals weekend for the first time ever, they are going to have to do it the hard way by overcoming newly-crowned league champions Coventry Blaze.

A 3-2 defeat at home to Cardiff Devils on Saturday ensured Hull finished the regular season bottom of the table, seeing them rewarded with next week's two-legged clash against Coventry, who clinched their fourth league trophy in seven years with a 4-3 overtime win in Edinburgh Capitals.

Sheffield Steelers – defeated 7-4 at Hull in Sunday night's final game of the regular season – will face Cardiff Devils in the first round of the post-season, after a 6-2 win over arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers at Sheffield Arena in front of a record Elite League crowd of 8,634 saw them clinch fifth place ahead of Edinburgh.

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Hull player-coach Sylvain Cloutier said he was looking forward to meeting his former club Coventry, his side having finally got the better of the Blaze in the regular season's final match-up between the two sides a fortnight ago.

"Coventry will be a big challenge for us," said Cloutier. "They are the champions and we are the underdogs so we will see what happens.

"It's a great achievement any time you win a league title. They deserve it because they have been the best team all year."

In the final Yorkshire derby of the regular season on Sunday, Stingrays made it three wins from eight meetings with Steelers thanks mainly to a four-goal haul from player/assistant-coach Curtis Huppe.

Matt Hubbauer had given Steelers an early lead but Stingrays were 3-1 ahead by the end of the first period thanks to strikes from Jason Silverthorn, Lee Esders and Huppe.

Jeff Glowa grabbed Stingrays' fourth in between goals for Steelers from Jonathan Zion and Jeff Legue. In the third period, Jonathan Phillips scored for Steelers but they could do nothing to stop a rampant Huppe, who fired in three more goals.

Against Devils, captain Glowa and opposite number Mark Richardson traded first-period goals before Mike Hartwick edged the visitors ahead early in the second.

Silverthorn leveled at 27.55, but Phil Hill struck to clinch both points for the Devils.

Four goals in the second period effectively decided Steelers' clash with Panthers on Saturday, a night made even more memorable for the retiring of Steelers legend 'Rocket' Ron Shudra's No 26 shirt before the game.

After a goalless opening period, defenceman Randy Dagenais opened the scoring at 21.40 for Steelers, who were quickly two ahead when Joey Talbot pounced at 24.29.

Jay Henderson grabbed a reply before Talbot grabbed his second at 38.22, ahead of Doug Sheppard's first of the night a minute later.

Panthers' player-coach Corey Neilson made it 4-2, but the points were clinched when Sheppard grabbed his second with a shorthanded goal at 51.08 and Hubbauer made it 6-2 at 58.07.