Elite Ice Hockey League: Race for the play-offs remains finely poised

Braehead Clan celebrate victory over Edinburgh Capitals, October 2012.
The battle for a play-off spot resumes this weekend.© Kris Jack

Yet again the complexion of the Gardiner Conference could all change this weekend as the finely poised Scottish sides do battle in the race for their final positions in their division, the Elite league and for the play-offs.

With just one point separating top from bottom, the next few weeks will be very interesting indeed.

After last week's round of games, Braehead managed to stay atop the Gardiner despite only managing one point from six, seeing them slide down the EIHL standings.

A Matt Schepke hat-trick was not enough to oust the Coventry Blaze on Friday night, as Paul Thompson's men recorded a rare win at Braehead, finding an overtime winner to claim the extra point.

Saturday night saw the visit of the Nottingham Panthers, where the class and quality of the EIHL leaders shone through, as they ran out 5-0 victors, although the brawn of D-Man Craig Cescon gave the crowd a lift after downing Panther's Guy Lepine in a fight.

Their weekend ended with a defeat in Hull, where the Stingrays scored three times at home early on to put the Clan on the back foot, with Bowns in the Ray's goal only allowing a first period Ash Goldie strike and Jordan Krestanovich to grab a late PP consolation, to ensure a 3-2 home win.

Their losing streak continued in to their Challenge Cup semi-final first leg defeat to Sheffield Steelers on Wednesday night, despite taking a two goal lead through Krestanovich and Rob Farmer. The Steelers rallied to score four on the bounce to win the first leg 4-2, giving them the advantage ahead of the second leg.

Fife Flyers drew level on points with Braehead in the Gardiner and went up to sixth in the big league after two hard-fought victories last weekend.

A 4-2 win over Hull on Saturday began their weekend, as goals from Chaumont, Hogg and Carriveau did the job over Cloutier's Stingrays, earning the Flyers a fifth successive win in their home barn.

They made it six on Sunday with a 3-2 win over Coventry Blaze, coach Todd Dutiaume scoring in the third to clinch the win, to rocket them up the Elite League.

The Edinburgh Capitals also secured a win over the Blaze at Murrayfield, hammering the boys from the Skydome 6-2, going two goals up as early as the sixth minute. With the game tied at the end of the first, the Cap waited until the third period to score four without reply, as Marcis Zembergs stole show with a final session hat trick, in their only game of the weekend, to put them 7th in EIHL table.

Dundee Stars slipped to the foot of the Conference as their two matches over the piece took place against Erhardt opposition, ending with two defeats.

On Thursday they lost out to the Belfast giants, who overcame some ownership issues and scandal to ensure they could compete in the EIHL earlier in the week.

That 2-0 loss was followed by a 3-1 defeat to the Steelers on Sunday, their fifth straight loss. Sami Ryhanen was on hand to give them a first period lead, but two goals from Jeff Legue sandwiched a Matt Stephenson effort, to seal a Steelers victory.

With just one point splitting top form bottom in the Gardiner, this weekend's games will no doubt see the positions change yet again come Monday morning.

Dundee Stars host Nottingham Panthers tonight (Friday) in as tough a game as they could get during their recent barren run. The Panthers are on course for the title but an upset on Tayside tonight could allow Belfast to gain on them, while pushing the Stars to a confidence boosting victory.

They then travel to Coventry on Saturday before hosting Braehead in their only Gardiner game of the weekend.

The Clan will be looking for revenge on Hull as the Stingrays come to town on Saturday evening, and will be desperate to end their losing streak and build on their strong midweek showing despite defeat.

The consistency they had shown when Paul Gardner initially took over has all but gone, and a big final push is needed for the Clan to meet the potential they were expected to fulfill at the start of the season.

Fife Flyers are the second Scottish side to take on the Panthers this weekend, with Danny Stewart and co looking to make it a magnificent seven home wins in a row, as they look to keep themselves as top of the Scots in the EIHL.

They then take on Hull on Sunday, where they will be hoping to better the Clan's result versus Dundee to go atop the Conference.

Edinburgh Capitals go to Sheffield on Saturday to take on the Steelers, buoyed by coach Richard hartmann committing to the Caps cause for another year. The recent results have justified his position at the club and he will be looking to make a mark in this, if not both of their Elite League ties this weekend.

With their visitors on Sunday the Panthers, Hartmann and co will be hoping that their Gardiner cohorts will have tired them out ahead of their third game in three nights.

With Nottingham hopeful of six from six this weekend, their rivals for the top spot are also in action.

The Belfast Giants will be looking to go level at the top having played a game more if they can beat the Cardiff Devils tonight and tomorrow, as long as the Stars pull off an upset.

The Steelers won't be able to get above third with their game against Edinburgh, while Coventry take on Cardiff on Sunday, looking to distance themselves form the Devils.

FIXTURES

Friday

Cardiff @ Belfast
Nottingham @ Dundee

Saturday

Cardiff @ Belfast
Hull @ Braehead
Dundee @ Coventry
Nottingham @ Fife
Edinburgh @ Sheffield

Sunday

Coventry @ Cardiff
Nottingham @ Edinburgh
Fife @ Hull
Braehead @ Dundee

Kris Jack is a sports blogger and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @krisjack85.