Devils 3 – 2 Storm
With the three trophies in the cabinet for the Devils, they now turned their attention to the playoffs. It is notoriously difficult to secure the grand slam, often because a team’s psychological well has been drained by the time they gain the league. To go to it again, and against opposition that have decided since January that the playoffs are their target for the season, becomes one ask too many.
The Devils had struggled against Manchester both home and away early in the season, and Pacha’s side often look better than their league position suggests. They lack the depth to maintain a sustained push but over two games they are physical and committed, so the Devils knew this would not be a straightforward pass to Nottingham next weekend. As if to underline this Lord and Bissonnette scuffled before the FO, with Bordeleau stepping in to make his presence known. There were hits, half trips, crowding around the net in the first five minutes that said ‘playoff hockey’. A Devils goal was rightly called off after 1.45 as it was kicked in, but it gave the Devils some early momentum. Bordeleau gained lots of early ice time, and he looked like a man who understood playoff hockey. A Devils PP saw the effective Fournier long pass, tapped in as it sped past by the nimble stick work of Asselin. The Devils could not capitalise on a few more chances, with Clemente having an outstanding game, but their physicality seemed to be dominating the Storm by the end of the first period.
The second period saw more of this thread, but with a twist. It started with two PPs for the Devils, with Clemente and the D men protecting the net with commitment, and the Devils fluffing their lines when the openings came. There was a sense of growing pressure however, and a Devils goal seemed imminent. Instead a break away from the Storm saw a long range shot, which Bowns flapped at with his glove and missed, to equalise. From here it was end to end frantic playoff hockey, with Manchester quick to hustle players off the puck. A blocked shot from Hotham in the Storm zone gave Heatley a chance to sprint up the ice and neatly finish past Bowns, to give Manchester the lead. The Devils were surprised to find themselves behind, but unlike earlier in the season, they had confidence to work their way back in.
The third saw the Devils reassert their zone dominance, but again Clemente and the Storm frustrated their attack. Joey Haddad, who received the Devils forward of the year award during the week then demonstrated why this was a deserved accolade. He split three Manchester teammates, raced through center ice and poked the puck past Clemente, for a goal of the season contender. The Devils then demonstrated their intent with a big hit from Louis and a series of fights, with three occurring simultaneously at one point. It continued to be niggly from then on, with a scrap every minute and after every whistle. The Devils pursued a winner to take to Manchester tomorrow, and after two barrelling shots in succession, Scott Hotham forced home the rebound amidst a melee of players. Despite further pressure they could not increase this lead, and the game ended with a deserved, but narrow victory for Cardiff. This game was an advert for what playoff hockey should be, and a call in itself to extend the playoff series to a longer run.
And that was the end of the home season at the IAW. The Devils would go on to win 3-1 in Manchester the following night, securing a place in the playoff weekend in Nottingham. A season review will follow.