EIHL: Shifting plates in race for title & play-offs

The EIHL play-off finals trophy
The EIHL play-off finals trophy

The plates are starting to shift and some clubs are finding themselves on ground that is less than firm.

The race for the title and for play-off spots in the EIHL is intensifying by the weekend - so much so the ‘’what if’s’’ abound.

The phrase ‘’it’s Braehead’s title’’ has largely disappeared from rinkside chatter after Clan’s catastrophic four losses from five games compounded by injuries which scythed through the bench.

Little wonder coach Ryan Finnerty wears the look of a man who has just witnessed an awful car crash.

His side remain in third place, but are seven points behind league leaders Cardiff, and in danger of being lapped by a resurgent Nottingham, one point behind with two games in hand.

Panthers could yet make it a three-way sprint down the finishing line, but right now it’s a head to head between Devils and Sheffield.

They meet back to back this weekend in what can only be billed as season defining matches.

Devils have a clear four-point lead at the top and are the form side with four straight wins.

Steelers have stumbled of late - particularly against Coventry who seem to have their number - but come Sunday night the picture could easily change once more.

But it isn’t just the title race that is fascinating to study.

Down at the other end of the table, the race for eighth spot has suddenly become rather intriguing.

Manchester Storm have found new impetus of late- indeed, they are THE form team in the league with six straight wins.

A debut season which seemed to be petering out has re-ignited as the gap on eight-placed Blaze has been cut to just one point.

True, the Midlanders have three games in hand, but they remain a team prone to horrendous collapses as well as big wins.

On Sunday they also looked physically spent, and departed having failed to score a single goal in Kirkcaldy this season, and with an injury worry to key netminder Brian Stewart. He’s their game winner. Any lingering concerns over his fitness and Blaze suddenly become more than vulnerable.

Only Edinburgh have nothing to play for.

The side built by Riley Emmerson and infused with a real spark and vitality is now a ghost ship, one listing badly with 12 losses. You really have to feel for the coach who has invested so much energy and emotion in the post, and delivered a side that, in the first half of the season, raised hopes and got the fans buzzing once more.

As for the rest, they are honing their games and getting into play-off mode.

As Todd Dutiaume remarked on Sunday, it’s all about momentum.

Right now, it lies with his Fife side which could finish as high as fifth and even take the conference.

It has found a groove and is now delivering the wins that proved frustratingly elusive in the first half of the season.

Flyers trail sixth placed Dundee by one point with a game in hand, and are one behind Belfast who have two in hand.

In the conference they sit top, four points clear of Braehead.

Clan did have seven games in hand at one stage. That’s now down to four - and the gap is still there. The points are in the bag for Fife. They still have to be earned by Finnerty’s faltering team.

Saturday’s head to head is massive for both teams, and, right now, Fife have Clan’s number both home and away.

Flyers have just one conference game left after that.

All they can do is wins their games, set the target and let the rest shoot for it.

>> This week’s fixtures:

Tuesday: Belfast Giants v Dundee Stars

Wednesday: Coventry Blaze v Nottingham Panthers; Manchester Storm v Sheffield Steelers

Friday: Belfast Giants v Nottingham Panthers

Saturday: Braehead Clan v Fife Flyers; Coventry Blaze v Belfast Giants; Manchester Storm v Dundee Stars; Sheffield Steelers v Cardiff Devils

Sunday : Cardiff Devils v Sheffield Steelers; Dundee Stars v Braehead Clan; Edinburgh Capitals v Manchester Storm; Nottingham Panthers v Coventry Blaze