Banners On The Wall 2014 Playoff Preview

With the EPIHL playoffs starting tomorrow, Banners On The Wall sits down to give a quick preview of the 4 quarter finals and some predictions that are guaranteed to be very well informed/completely rubbish (delete as applicable).

 
Manchester Phoenix vs Bracknell Bees
Results: Bees 3-2 Phoenix (ps), Phoenix 3-2 Bees (ps), Phoenix 7-3 Bees, Bees 8-2 Phoenix, Phoenix 6-2 Bees, Bees 1-5 Phoenix

The EPL champions head into the weekend minus 3rd liner Jack Watkins after surgery in what will be an interesting weekend for the Altrincham side. Despite winning the season series, the Bees are not the best of matchups for the Phoenix and Manchester have noticeably struggled at the Hive in recent times.
The best bet for the Bees is to try and get a decent lead at home then playing the ideal road game in Manchester. If the stars align then this is entirely possible. What the Bees might lack in skill, they make up for in determination and grit which has frustrated the Phoenix when they’ve played teams with a similar style. If the Bees cannot stop the Phoenix from imposing their will on the tie early however, then both contests could be very lopsided.
Prediction: Whilst we’d all love an upset, I don’t see one here. Phoenix take the tie by 3 goals across the weekend.

 

Guildford Flames vs Telford Tigers
Results: Tigers 2-6 Flames, Flames 8-3 Tigers, Tigers 3-6 Flames, Flames 2-3 Tigers, Flames 1-4 Tigers, Tigers 3-4 Flames
Arguably the most talked about tie of the playoffs, for many this is a clash of the power of old and the power to be in the EPL. In one corner you have the Flames who have dominated the EPL for years but this season find themselves struggling for form and confidence against Telford who have been a force to be reckoned with since the takeover by Wayne Scholes and Red Hockey Ltd but maybe aren’t as experienced in some game situations as other sides, noticeably having had issues holding onto leads. The Tigers dropped a 4-3 decision to the Flames in Shropshire having been comfortably ahead and they can’t afford the Flames such luxury this weekend.
This tie depends on two major factors; the first of these is how well the Flames play. If Guildford play like we all know the Guildford Flames can play then it’s hard to see a way past them but if we see a lacklustre Flames performance then talent alone won’t get them through where it might do against other sides.
The other factor is the nerves of the Telford roster. A lot has been made about this being the first post-season action for the Tigers in years and how Tom Watkins’ side manages that pressure is very important. The Flames will punish any weakness shown and will certainly be looking to get one over on Rick Plant given his midseason departure.
Prediction: A very tough one but I believe that experience of the situation is what will see Guildford progress but the margin will be thin. This one might end in a shootout.

 

Milton Keynes Lightning vs Swindon Wildcats
Results: Wildcats 3-4 Lightning, Wildcats 4-6 Lightning, Lightning 6-4 Wildcats, Lightning 3-1 Wildcats, Wildcats 3-2 Lightning, Lightning 0-3 Wildcats
This is another tough series to call and results between the two sides really don’t do justice to the two teams we have coming into this weekend. MK are injury hit but full of quality and grit whereas Swindon who have arguably underachieved (again) across the season seem to be hitting form at the right time, especially Stevie Lyle who kept 3 consecutive shutouts and appears to be playing himself into form at just the right time.
The key to this game for me is the first leg at The Link Centre and who, if anyone holds the advantage. Having watched what MK did under pressure with a 3 goal deficit in the EPL cup final, I think it’s vital for Swindon to try and stamp some authority on the tie as quickly as they can at home. Kostal, Nell, Höög, Lyle; everyone needs to be firing on all cylinders to get MK on the back foot. If Swindon take a lead into the 2nd leg then score early at the Skydome, it would be a long way back for the Lightning.
The problem is that MK are too stubborn to let a couple of goals stop them playing their game and trying to win. They are a very good and well organised side with some real attacking threats as well as solid defensive ones.
Prediction: I have to go with my gut based on what I’ve seen. MK sneak it but I won’t be surprised if Swindon win the contest either nor would it be an upset.

Saving the best till last…

Basingstoke Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs
Results: Steeldogs 5-4 Bison (ps), Bison 5-4 Steeldogs (ps), Bison 6-5 Steeldogs, Steeldogs 3-4 Bison, Steeldogs 3-4 Bison (ps), Bison 4-3 Steeldogs
The likely loss of Andre Payette for the tie (hope the knee gets better soon, Andre) has many people assuming that the Steeldogs will go out and “play hockey” but I don’t think it’s that simple. The Sheffield Steeldogs have literally nothing to lose at this juncture; they are not particularly expected to win, people will criticise them for their tactics if they do but if they go out and play the style of game they get criticised for so frequently, including by me after their recent visit, and they win then what is the issue? This is the playoffs; it’s surely the ultimate win at all costs situation.
The problem is that during the regular season, the Bison did find a way to counter some of those antics. Yes, there were occasions when the Herd got sucked into playing Sheffield’s game but the record during the season is somewhat emphatic; yes the games are close but 5 wins from 6 is still 5 wins from 6, 11 points from 12.
“It’s the playoffs, it’s totally different” and yes you’re right but do the Sheffield Steeldogs have a plan B to counter the Bison putting them on the backfoot? Start being overly physical and they end up in the box. It’s hard to win games on the penalty kill. If needs be, can the Sheffield Steeldogs outplay the Basingstoke Bison to win the tie?
Prediction: Aside from the fan in me feeling the need to back my boys, the analyst in me sees the Bison as too strong and too deep in this encounter. Bison take the tie by 2 goals across the two legs.

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