Playoff finals beckon for the Belfast Giants but first they need to put out the Blaze

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A place in the playoff finals in Nottingham in a week’s time beckons for the Belfast Giants this weekend.

To get to the finals the Giants will need to go through the Coventry Blaze in the quarter-finals.

Head coach Adam Keefe admits getting to the finals is motivation in itself but he adds that the disappointment of being put out of the Challenge Cup at the SSE Arena by Blaze will also be a big motivator.

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Keefe said: “We will be looking to right that wrong from earlier in the season when they put us out of the Challenge Cup.

Belfast Giants' head coach Adam Keefe. Picture: Darren Kidd/PresseyeBelfast Giants' head coach Adam Keefe. Picture: Darren Kidd/Presseye
Belfast Giants' head coach Adam Keefe. Picture: Darren Kidd/Presseye

“Being put out of the cup was a devastating blow for the squad and we didn't get a chance to retain the cup for a third season.

“It will definitely be extra motivation for the squad but the full focus will be on winning both this weekend's games. Those games are in the past, our focus is on the here and now.”

Keefe says that the Blaze will be playing desperate hockey as Danny Stewart’s squad look to book their place in playoff finals.

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He said: “They have been battling the last month or so to stay in the chase for the playoffs. It has been crazy how tight the league has been this season, it saw Coventry fighting for their place right up to the final game.

“I expect that they will be playing some good hockey in the playoff games this weekend.”

Keefe said he was pleased to get the opportunity last weekend to get the Giants playing the EIHL champions ahead of the playoff finals in the double-header.

He said: “It is always a great test to go up against the league champions. Our recent games have been against teams who have finished above us in the league standings.

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“It has been a great way to finish our season by playing top quality opponents and we are going to have to be very good going into this weekend's games against Coventry.

“They will be playing for their lives and want to book their spot in the finals weekend. So we can only expect that they will be playing at a high intensity this weekend.”

Finding good form ahead of the playoffs will be beneficial to the Giants remarked Keefe.

“There is a quiet confidence in the locker-room with our recent form and in the team as a whole. In the last 20 games in the season we have come out as number one in performances in the league.

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“That reflects that there is a bit of form which has been building in the dressing room.”

He added: “We feel confident going into the playoffs, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves and we know that it’s going to be a tough match-up against Coventry.

“We have already had some tough matches against them all season long, so we know what they are capable of.

“This is the start of the playoffs, its like a new season, everyone starts at zero and so we are going to give it our best shot.

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“From my experience, both as a player and a coach, I have found that the playoff quarter-finals can be as tricky as the finals weekend itself.

“This weekend we have to be fully focused on getting to the finals weekend and make sure we see off Coventry.”

Reflecting on the the Steelers being crowned EIHL champions Keefe believes that full they deserve full credit for their efforts.

He explained: “Aaron Fox has put together a very good hockey team this season, they had a good line-up both nights, there were a couple of players rested on both the night, but they came into Belfast to play hockey and they refused to back down.

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“They have been the best in the league from start to finish, they didn’t seem to falter and stayed healthy for the majority of the season.

“They are very deep with their offence and I think they have got a little better defensively this year than in the past.

“And their goalie has been formidable, Aaron has done an excellent job recruiting new players and keeping some of the guys from last year, they wanted more from last year and that has definitely shown.”

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