JONATHAN PHILLIPS insists the underdog tag sits well with Sheffield Steelers as they prepare to go head-to-head with Cardiff Devils in the first round of the Elite League play-offs this weekend.
The Steelers finished seventh in the regular season and find themselves matched-up with Andrew Lord’s team in a two-legged quarter-final after the South Wales club were denied a third straight league title on the final day of the campaign.
A 3-1 defeat at Coventry Blaze on Sunday handed the regular season crown to Belfast Giants and means Cardiff – like the Steelers – enter the post-season still looking for their first piece of silverware in 2018-19.
“I think whoever we’d have ended up facing in the first round it was always going to be a grind,” said captain Phillips. “
“Cardiff are very experienced and used to winning and they will not be pleased about what happened last weekend. They are going to want to put that right and they are very, very dangerous team
“But we’ve got nothing to lose, though and everybody else on the outside is looking at this match-up and seeing us as underdogs – but that is fine with us.”
Phillips said a first leg lead after Saturday’s clash in Sheffield would be essential going down to South Wales the following night to a venue where they have had no joy this season so far. All three visits to the Viola Arena have ended in heavy defeats, the Steelers scoring just four goals while conceding 20.
At home, it is a slightly better story, the Steelers losing 6-2 and 3-2 before ensuring Cardiff didn’t enjoy a clean sweep in the six-game head-to-head series by winning the final encounter of the season 5-4 almost three weeks ago.
That result - and performance - will have done wonders for Steelers’ confidence ahead of Saturday night, says Phillips, who started out his professional career at Cardiff back in 1999 before making a switch to South Yorkshire in the summer of 2006.
“Everybody in the league knows how hard they play down there, how aggressive they are in their own building, so we have to get off to the best start we can at ours,” added Phillips.
“It’s a game, effectively, of six periods and in those first three here we’ve got to be absolutely at the top of our game and we have to take something from it into Cardiff.
“It was a big, big game for us we when we beat them at ours. We didn’t want to be swept in the series and in our building we’ve had some great games against them.
“Down there is a different story, but at home we’d played really well and come off second best a couple of times. So mentally going into this game, just going back to that (5-4 win) game, just proves it can be done.”
The first leg takes place at Sheffield Arena on Saturday (7pm) before the return leg at Cardiff’s Viola Arena just under 24 hours later.
We’ve got nothing to lose, though and everybody else on the outside is looking at this match-up and seeing us as underdogs – but that is fine with us.Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips