HEAD-TO-HEAD: Stingrays v Panthers

RUNNING THE RULE: Sheffield Steelers' defenceman casts an eye over some of the key players in Saturday's Elite League play-off semi-final between Hull Stingrays and Nottingham Panthers.
RUNNING THE RULE: Sheffield Steelers' defenceman casts an eye over some of the key players in Saturday's Elite League play-off semi-final between Hull Stingrays and Nottingham Panthers.
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SHEFFIELD Steelers’ defenceman and YP blogger Rod Sarich has overcome his team’s disappointing play-off exit to Hull Stingrays last weekend to cast his eye over the players he feels will have a major impact in Saturday’s semi-final showdown between Sylvain Cloutier’s team and Nottingham Panthers at the National Ice Centre (5pm).

NETMINDERS: Christian Boucher v Craig Kowalski

Boucher is very good shot stopper, if he can see it he seems to save it. He likes to get out of his crease and challenge the shooter by cutting down the angle and if Hull can take away the passing options and leave Boucher with the shooter they’ll do well. He’ll be playing with a lot of confidence and in this league a hot goalie can potentially win you three games and the play-offs. He’s also probably faced as many shots as any goalie in the league this year so he’s experienced too!

Kowalski is another smaller goalie but makes up for this with quickness and great natural ability. He’ll also come out of his net to challenge the shooter knowing that he has the ability to recover laterally across his net to make a second and even third save! Saying that, he doesn’t usually have to as his rebound control is quite good and most first attempts end up in the corner. Hull will need someone right in front on the power-play making it hard for Kowalski to see the puck.

Vital statistics

Boucher – Games: 63; Total shots faced: 2341 (Av: 37.1 per game); Save percentage: 90.0; GAA: 3.76

Kowalski – Games: 62; Total shots faced: 1,540 (Av: 24.8 per game; Save percentage: 92.3; GAA: 2.00.

Watch Hull Stingrays’ netminder Christian Boucher interviewed ahead of the play-off semi-final HERE

DEFENCE: Kurtis Dulle v Corey Neilson

Dulle only came in half way through the season but has been a big part of Hull’s success, bolstering the Stingrays defence. He plays with good aggression in his own end and isn’t afraid to take the puck on the attack either, but he’ll have to pick his spots wisely this weekend as he’ll be logging a lot of minutes and the tempo is always ramped up for the play-off finals. Dulle’s been an effective quarter-back to the Stingrays power-play and his heads-up passing will need to be on again this weekend, limiting time spent in his own end and initiating the Stingrays attack.

Never short of confidence, Nielson has a hard low shot and great vision on the ice which he likes to use to shoot for tips or pass around the opposition’s goaltender on the power play. His first decision/pass from the defensive zone is often overlooked by accomplishments in the offensive zone but he’s one of the best in the league. As a big man, Nielson will need his team to stay out of penalty trouble so he and an offensive Panthers team can use their energy where it’s best suited – on the attack.

Vital statistics

Dulle – Games: 43; Goals: 3; Assists: 24; Pts: 27 PIMS: 108

Neilson – Games: 64; Gls: 13; A: 47; Pts: 60 PIMS: 117

Watch Hull Stingrays’ player-coach Sylvain Cloutier interviewed ahead of the play-off semi-final HERE

FORWARDS: Jereme Tendler v David Beauregard

As a larger forward, Tendler has a long reach and deceptive speed in a straight line which is why he’s always a threat on the penalty kill. He seems to be one of these players that you don’t always notice throughout the game but he’s got a good knack for being in the right place at the right time and he doesn’t hesitate to put the puck on net. The fact that he will shoot from anywhere makes him dangerous and he’ll be a big key to the Stingrays special teams this weekend.

Beauregard is a dangerous offensive player from all areas on the ice but he seems to do his best work around the net, specifically when on the power-play. He’s got a great ability to find those soft areas around the net where the puck will pop free to and his ability with the puck in-close rarely lets him down. Beauregard’s second-attempt offense will be a must for the Panthers as Boucher has been handling the first save well as of late.

Vital statistics

Tendler – Games: 55; Gls: 36; A: 29; Pts: 65; PIMS: 12

Beauregard – Games: 65; Gls: 42; A: 35; Pts: 77; PIMS: 64.

Watch highlights of Hull’s 5-2 second leg play-off win against Sheffield Steelers HERE