HULL Stingrays player-coach Sylvain Cloutier said he was always confident his team would make the Elite League play-offs, despite enduring a more difficult season than expected.
A 7-0 defeat for Edinburgh Capitals at Nottingham Panthers on Friday night removed any lingering doubts as to Stingrays’ participation in the post-season. Now all that remains to be seen is who they will face in next week’s first round.
Finish seventh and they will face regular season runners-up Sheffield Steelers over two legs. But Hull could face champions Belfast Giants if eighth-placed Dundee Stars overhaul them by securing two regulation wins this weekend – the second of which would have to be sealed in Hull on Sunday night.
If Hull win at Braehead Clan on Saturday however, Sunday night’s result will be irrelevant as Dundee – who face bottom club Fife Flyers in their first game of the weekend – would be unable to match the Stingrays’ points tally.
“We are one of the teams who are expected to make the play-offs,” said Cloutier, whose team helped their play-off bid with a timely 4-3 win over a deflated Steelers last Sunday.
“I was a bit worried when we lost (top scorer) Jereme Tendler for a few weeks through suspension, but the weekend in the middle of February when we beat Dundee twice was huge for us.
“Whether it’s Belfast or the Steelers, we’re not fussed. Either way, we’ll have to beat a top team if we want to make it to the finals weekend in Nottingham.
“We have to believe that we can cause an upset. We know we’ll be the underdog whoever we end up facing, but that suits us.”
Cloutier has been boosted in recent weeks by the return of key players – most notably Tendler, who ended his goalscoring drought with two goals against the Steelers Sunday.
Defenceman Martin Ondrej has added some solidity at the back end after a groin injury, while British forward Matty Davies ended his spell on the sidelines with a concussion with a typically-energetic display against the Steelers last time out.
“It has been tough at times this season with injuries and other stuff,” admitted Cloutier. “Unless you’re one of the top teams you can’t just go out and bring in another import to cover for an injury every time.
“But we like what we’ve got in the room and we’re getting healthy at the right time and, after last week’s win against Sheffield, confidence is good.
“Ideally we’d take care of business in Braehead and make sure we finish seventh before the Dundee game – our aim at the beginning of the season was to finish seventh or higher.”
Steelers will look to build some momentum going into the play-offs as well as end a three-game losing streak when they end their regular season against Edinburgh at Ice Sheffield tonight (7pm).
Sunday sees them back at the Motorpoint Arena to take on Braehead (5pm).
Player-cioach Ryan Finnerty is expected to split goaltending duties between John DeCaro and back-up Geoff Woolhouse, with the latter expected to face the Capitals.
IN the English Premier League, Sheffield Steeldogs will look to continue their bid for a regular season runners-up spot in a double-header weekend against Basingstoke Bison.
The second of the two matches will be at Ice Sheffield on Sunday (face-off 5.30pm).
With four games of the regular season remaining, Andre payette’s side are two points behind second-placed Manchester Phoenix.