Stars 2 – 4 Devils
This was my third time to the Playoffs. The first year the Devils didn’t qualify, then last year they may as well not have qualified, crashing out at the semi-final stage to Coventry. Surely this year we could go one better, if not actually win it. The Dundee Stars had a shorter bench so their game plan was to come out hard early on and hope to establish a lead that could be defended. An early, strong check on Andrew Hotham in mid-ice transmitted their intentions clearly if there had been any doubts. The Devils started slowly, with early chances going to the Stars. After five minutes it seemed as though the Devils passing game was slowly clicking into action, like the cool dancer at a party limbering up with a half dance, half walk across the floor. But it was Bowns who was forced to work the harder of the netminders, making a couple of glove saves and surviving a scramble around the net. Then, like the dancer going through their warm-up the Devils began to over-embellish. A spin, a duck, a no look back hand pass when all we wanted was a straightforward two-step. The Stars took advantage of this, when the Devils had failed to heed the warnings and the tenacious Scarsella set up Hart on the blue line for a strong shot past Bowns through traffic. A couple of half chances were worked by the Devils but they were still being dispossessed easily by a Stars team led by the grit and speed of Scarsella. It was he who again skated around the boards and passed to Switzer gliding in front of net to send the Stars in two up at the end of the first. Distinct feelings of deja vu from last year descended on the Devils fans. Perhaps it was the cool dancer only had dad dancing in his locker.
The second started with the sense that, once again, the next goal would be crucial. The Devils commenced with an immediate string of attacks, and a goal looked likely. But even then swipe in front of Bowns could easily have gone in. A break and a misplaced pass found its way to the one man you’d want in this situation, Haddad, who duly scored. A trademark long range Hotham pass saw Benti put it just wide, but belief was now coursing through the Devils. The limbering up of the first period was now well past. There was a heavy, insistent assault on the Stars goal now, as if it had been ordered up from a Florida golf course. But the Stars weathered this immediate storm, and saw the period out at 2-1. If the shot tally of 9-6 in the first period in Stars favour had told the tale of that period, then 14-6 to the Devils in this one was evidence of a turnaround in effect.
The third started reasonably evenly, and then after four minutes a shot saved by Fallon rolled loose and for an agonising everyone seemed paralysed, looking at it, frozen in a tableau marked “turning point”. Mark Louis liberated himself from the freeze frame and poked it home to equalise. Now the momentum was all Devils. A swift break and a neat interchange between Lord and Martin saw the league’s forward of the year make it look simple and the Devils had the lead. The Stars did not go quietly however, and the final minutes saw a relentless series of attacks, with the Devils clearing like they were on a PK. And then Scott Hotham picked up a holding penalty and Fallon was pulled, so they really were on a 6 on 4 PK. But a cheeky lob shot from Andrew Hotham into the empty net gave the Devils the requisite killer blow and saw them through to the final.