Play-offs: Season over as Steelers and Stingrays crash out

IN the end, there were no upsets, the teams who finished in the top four at the end of the Elite League's regular season all safely made it through to the play-off finals Easter weekend at Nottingham's National Ice Centre.

Hull Stingrays threatened to upset the applecart briefly when they held champions Coventry Blaze at 1-1 during the first leg of their quarter-final play-off on Saturday night.

But Paul Thompson's side made better use of their special teams to edge out Hull 2-1 and made sure of a semi-final slot by winning 4-1 in last night's return leg at the Skydome Arena to seal a 6-2 aggregate triumph.

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For Sheffield Steelers, a torrid campaign which produced a rather limp defence of their league and play-off crowns, was finally brought to an end against Cardiff Devils who, after last night's 5-3 second leg win at Sheffield Arena, booked a last four showdown with Coventry on the back of an aggregate 9-5 victory.

Nottingham Panthers who beat Edinburgh Capitals 5-0 on home ice last night to seal a 9-4 aggregate win will meet Belfast Giants in the other semi-final, after the Northern Ireland team saw off Newcastle Vipers 10-3 over two nights.

While bitterly disappointed to go out of the post-season at the first stage, Stingrays player-coach Sylvain Cloutier was pleased with the way his players never gave up against a Coventry side which had recently clinched its fourth league title in seven seasons.

"I am disappointed but that's the way it goes sometimes," said Cloutier.

"We didn't play a bad game but credit to Coventry, they played well and came out hard in the first 15 minutes.

"But we were still in the game and we got a goal back but we were then undisciplined and got a bit carried away.

"The majority of the guys battled to the end and that is what I wanted to see."

Konstantin Kalmikov's goal had ensured the deficit was only one going into last night's second leg in Coventry but three first period goals from the home side effectively ended the contest, despite a second period strike from Cloutier.

Steelers were always going to be up against it after Saturday night's 4-2 defeat in Cardiff and former forward Ryan Finnerty showed no sympathy when he opened the scoring in the third minute last night.

Jonathan Zion equalised but three second period strikes for Cardiff effectively sealed the home side's fate, despite further goals from Joey Talbot and Matt Hubbauer.