Manchester Storm 1 – 3 Cardiff Devils (Cardiff win 6-3 on agg)
Manchester Storm saw their 2016/17 season come to an end on Sunday night, after the Grand Slam chasing Cardiff Devils booked their place in the final four at Nottingham this upcoming weekend with a 6-3 aggregate win over the Storm to make it through to the Elite League finals.
Following a battling 3-2 loss down in South Wales the night before, it saw the Storm hoping to make it to their first finals weekend since the club formed last year. Cardiff who are the newly crowned Elite League champions and Challenge Cup took a one goal advantage lead with them to Altrincham and hoped to take another step towards a clean sweep of all the major honours this season.
The game was played typically at a playoff type pace and saw the intensity far higher than a normal league game too. Both sides were pretty even early on in the game and had neither team really able to have any kind of upper hand on their opponent.
Manchester levelled the tie at 8.21 into the first period and had a noisy and boisterous home crowd almost taking the roof off in the process. Storm’s Darian Dziurzynski fired home his 30th goal of the year and gave the home side a 1-0 lead and 3-3 overall.
Minutes later though it saw the Devils hitting right back through a Joey Haddad strike at 11.37 after the forward flipped it high over Mike Clemente to draw his side level and grab his second goal of the playoffs and make it 1-1.
Manchester looked a bit rocked by that equalising goal from the Devils, and after letting another lead slip from their grasp against their Welsh opposition in two nights, the League and Cup champions capitalised on their chances to then move 2-1 ahead soon after.
This time it saw Clemente in the Storm goals unable to hold onto a shot that struck him in the chest and the loose puck was fired in by Chris Culligan for a Devils advantage at 18.37 and make the overall score reading 5-3 after one period of hockey.
Second period saw the Devils controlling the game and not giving up many chances if hardly any for the Storm and was looking very similar to the game played out between the sides just a few weeks back. It saw the Devils shutting down the home side early on in the game and that was pretty much how the theme of the game went on.
With supporters of both sides making an incredible amount of noise for their respective team and had the rink rocking during the game, it did have a feel of the hometown crowd trying to just spur their team to get back in the game rather than actually overturning the game in truth.
Cardiff made the game look simple and their third goal was a beautifully crafted move that saw Devils player coach Andrew Lord and Sean Bentivoglio combining to set up a tap in for Gleason Fournier at 28.07. From that point on wards the tie was over as a contest with the aggregate at 6-3 but they still had pride to play for in the remaining half hour of the game.
The Devils were on fire and had the home side not needing the visitors to move up the gears in truth and the long season of injuries could clearly been seen to show on the home side. With the Storm having a much smaller bench than that of their opponents and trying as hard as they could to find a way back in the game on the night, the away side were always able to hold them at arms length.
Manchester just couldn’t find any shooting lanes or any holes in Cardiff’s armour to get at them. It saw no joy or goalmouth action for the Storm in the third and final period of the season as Cardiff stay on course to still possible have a sweep of all the trophies this year.
There was no lack of effort on the home sides part in the contest, but they just came up against a side that is defensively sound and dangerous going forward which is two reasons that has helped them win the double to date. It saw a strange statistic coming on the shots on goal for Manchester, with the Storm posting exactly the same number of shots against the Devils as last time out at home with 23 efforts.