Devils 4 – 3 Blaze
After a gritty, physical road win against the Blaze on Friday, the Devils had a two goal lead coming into this second leg. But if anyone thought their place in Nottingham was assured, they were disavowed of that belief within 30 seconds. The Devils lost the puck in the Blaze zone, a quick break and it was flashed past Bowns by Dingle. This was just the start Coventry wanted, and everyone knew we were in playoff hockey now. Paris fired just wide as the Devils looked to respond quickly. Lake sat for tripping at 2.54 but the Devils struggled to get a comprehensive attack going. Then when it finished there was almost a repeat of the first goal with a 2 on 1 rush but Bowns just managed to squeeze it past the post. There were a couple of rebounds that were snaffled away from Nastiuk. This failure to protect the Blaze netminder had been their undoing in Coventry, but this evening all of the Blaze D were scrapping for every loose puck. Another Coventry counter attack left the Devils exposed and went just wide. Pietrus took a roughing penalty after a hit on Benti by the boards. The game was fast, physical and determined. Repeatedly shots from the face off circles couldn’t get past Nastiuk and all rebounds were frantically cleared. Eventually it bore fruit when Mo switched it cross ice to Faryna, who with a side drift wristed it over Nastiuk’s stick to level the game. The period ended with Ahnelov taking a 2+2 penalty for sticking Benti to the face.
This gave the Devils three minutes of PP at the start of the second. But through a combination of resolute defending, some misplaced passes, outstanding saves and bounces not going their way, the Devils couldn’t capitalise on it. Shortly after Asselin took a 2 min boarding call and within 15 seconds of their first powerplay, Robinson gave the Blaze the lead. Dingle was through on Bowns again soon after but he padded it wide. This was hectic stuff with the Devils shooting just wide, and a tip from Faryna being blocked and somehow scrambled away. Players were taking hits, trips and scraps so quickly that the refs almost gave up calling anything, and adopted a Wild West approach. The Devils repeatedly created chances but too many nestled safely into Nastiuk’s midriff. The Blaze then got a 3rd on the rapid break again from Venus, to level the score on aggregate. The bus to Nottingham was now on hold.
The third period started with a Hotham shot ringing off the pipes and maybe it was going to be one of those games. Then Myers squared it and Batch bundled the puck home, and the sense of relief in the IAW was like a rapture. Within seconds the Devils beat Blaze at their own game with a rapid transition, and Pope smacked it in from Martin. The Devils had their swagger back, Pope was fired up and Benti was driving hard into the corners. Blaze were scrapping hard with 10 mins left and in a reversal of the first period, it was the Devils who were poke checking with a vengeance. Nastiuk was pulled with four mins left which led to a siege on the Devils net. A strategic timeout from Lord here took the edge off of this campaign. An empty net chance was missed by Haddad, but then a break from Martin fed Mo who switched to Faryna to wrap it up.
The bus to Nottingham could now be started up, but Coventry had given the Devils a scare. This was legitimate playoff hockey, with the Blaze looking to end their season with a statement, and to make Dingle’s final game a memorable one. Kelman said that after the league title they were changing their training routine to play a different style of hockey for the playoffs. This more physical, gritty style was in evidence on Friday, and they had to bring it to the fore tonight. This will bear them in good standing come next weekend.