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Elite League: Cardiff Devils vs Belfast Giants preview

TB_DEVILSCARDIFF Devils correspondent Tom Houghton assesses the team’s fortunes as they head over to face the Belfast Giants  in the Elite League playoffs tonight.

The Devils are looking to pick up their second piece of silverware as they begin their play-off campaign.

The first leg of the quarter final in Northern Ireland will be followed by the second in Cardiff on Sunday, meaning little respite for both teams. The winners will qualify for the Elite League play-off finals in Nottingham next weekend. And Devils will not be taking this weekend’s opponents lightly.

Giants finished their regular season strongly, claiming comfortable wins over Coventry Blaze and Fife Flyers, meaning Devils will have to be on top form to overcome the northern Irish side. Giants recovered to finish fifth having experienced a more mixed season, often relying on individual performers Ray Sawada and Carsen Chubak playing crucial roles in much of their good work.

Many Giants fans have cited the departure of former general manager Todd Kelman to Cardiff Devils as the reason for their struggles this season, so they will be out for revenge. The match is a repeat of the 2010 final, with Giants winning on that occasion. And Devils will be looking to put recent playoff final disappointment behind them.

A statistic player-coach Andrew Lord won’t want his players to dwell too much upon this campaign is that they finished runners up three years in a row following that defeat.

A strikingly similar statistic, however, is that Giants have been playoff final runners up in the last two seasons, so they will be keen to turn around fortunes and get their hands on the trophy.

Although their form this season may not have been stellar, Belfast appear to have been wounded Giants for most of this campaign, and last season’s Elite League winners will be disappointed they have not shown the same guile in this year’s competition.

They are three-times winners and will surely recover that winning form at some point, but the Cardiff side will be hoping that doesn’t happen this weekend. Devils will be looking to capitalize upon the good fortunes of individual players too.

Four Devils players were called up to the Great Britain ice hockey squad on Tuesday for April’s World Championship, meaning a good week for goaltender Ben Bowns, defencemen Josh Batch and Mark Richardson, and forward Matt Myers.

In Giant’s imposing 8,000 seater Odyssey Arena, Devils will be confident that any score within one or two points winning or losing margin will give them confidence they can get through to finals weekend.

After having won the Challenge Cup and having narrowly missed out on the Elite League title to Sheffield Steelers, the team have exceeded all expectations this season. However an early playoff exit would leave a sour taste for Lord and his men.

But if they can replicate their impressive home form at the Big Blue Tent this season, they will be adamant they can overcome any reasonable margin and take a big step towards taking home a title they have not won since the league’s instalment.

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