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Giants secure their play-off spot

Last Sunday evening’s second leg play-off match between the Belfast Giants and the Coventry Blaze proved to be a nail-biting and nerve wrecking finale to the Giant’s 2021/22 season.

With the two sides tied 2-2 after the game on Saturday night’s head-to-head in the Sky Dome in Coventry, it was a case of everything to play for and everything to lose.

And as the buzzer sounded on regulation time with no clear winner the game was forced into five minutes of overtime.

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Again, overtime was unable to separate the two sides and they had to decide the play-offs spot on a penalty shootout. After five penalties apiece and nerves fraying, it was a sudden death penalty from JJ Piccinich that booked the Giants spot in next weekend’s play-off finals.

Belfast Giants’ JJ Piccinich following his penalty to defeat Coventry Blaze

It looks set to be will probably one of the most competitive play-offs finals for several seasons. But most notable of all, both the Nottingham Panthers and the Sheffield Steelers will be missing from the finals, having been edged out by the Guildford Flames and the Dundee Stars respectively.

The Giants will play the Stars in the opening semi-final in Nottingham, with a faceoff time at 3pm, while the Cardiff Devils, who themselves had to dig deep against the Glasgow Clan last Sunday, will face the Flames in the second semi at 6pm (both matches will be televised in Premier Sports).

To all accounts, the game was as nervy at ice level as it was for fans in the stands.

Giants’ coach Adam Keefe, speaking after the game he joked: “To be honest, I feel like I have lost a year off my life after that.”

Giants’ Lewis Hook with Coventry Blaze’s Joey Raats

He continued: “At the end of the day we weren’t completely happy with our weekend as a whole. But that being said, we are moving on to Nottingham.”

Keefe believes that the Giants need to learn lessons from last weekend’s games.

He commented: “We are going to have to learn some lessons from this weekend.

“We will need have a look at our preparation going into the play-off finals and we will have to take full responsibility for that.

Giants’ Tyler Soy celebrates scoring against Coventry Blaze

“We are going to have to try and change some things to make sure that we have more urgency and intensity ahead of next weekend’s finals.

“The final four weekend is always a difficult. We know that.

“Everybody that is going to be there will be playing for their lives and for that trophy, so we are going to have to be at our best if we are going to be successful there.”

Keefe acknowledged there was an edginess, both in the team and fans.

He said: “We were missing something this weekend. I am going to have to watch the tapes back and figure out what exactly it was, and then try to fix this week and correct it in our preparations as we head into the play-off finals.

“But you can’t be disrespectful to the Coventry Blaze. They were very good this weekend. They made it very difficult for us to create chances the way we normally would and that was largely down to the way that they defended in the two games.

“One positive that I will be taking away from this weekend is that Besko was solid in goals for us. He gave us the chance to win those games.”

Keefe concluded: “We need to be aware that it is play-off hockey. Things are going to get tighter and it will be even more difficult to get those pretty goals.

“We will need to find ways create net presence and get those dirty goals.”