The Cardiff Devils have sealed their place in the final four of the Challenge Cup after a strong second leg performance against the Guildford Flames.
It was tied at 3 after the first leg hosted in Guildford, but the Devils came out with a much stronger performance on home ice last night to secure a 6 – 2 victory, and a 9 – 5 win over the two legs.
The win sees them meet up with the Sheffield Steelers in a two-legged semi final, which is a rematch of last years final where the Devils secured their second Challenge Cup in three years, both of which against the Steelers.
Andrew Lords’ Devils side came out hot to start the game, hemming the Flames in their own end of the ice for the opening 90 seconds and applying pressure on goaltender Chris Carrozzi.
Despite the strong start, it took the Devils over 10 minutes to get the first goal of the game. After the puck sprung loose in front of the Flames net, captain Jake Morissette swatted the puck out of the air and into the net.
The Morissette goal got the Devils going as before the period was out, he’d add another goal to extend the lead, before Patrick Asselin was left unchallenged at the back door to fire in the Devils third late in the opening period.
After a scoreless second period, Guildford needed a heroic effort to overcome the deficit, but the Devils have learnt from previous mistakes when the Fife Flyers turned a 5 – 1 deficit into an 8 – 6 win earlier in the year.
The Flames were first to light the lamp in the final period of action as Brett Ferguson put an awkward shot between the legs of goalie Ben Bowns, which deflected into the net to claw it back to a two goal series.
Cardiff didn’t let up though as just minutes later, Sean Bentivoglio was unchallenged in front of net and fired a snapshot past Carrozzi, with Patrick Asselin finishing off a breakaway with a slick backhand, extending it to a 5 – 1 Devils lead on the night.
Guildford did manage one more late in the game through John Dunbar, but Matt Pope put a nail in the coffin with an empty net goal to make it a 6 – 2 Devils win on the night, and a 9 – 5 series win.
The win will come as a relief for the Devils as their struggles against the EIHL new boys hasn’t gone unnoticed this season. Guildford registered a big 8 – 4 win against Cardiff in the first meeting of the year, and have gone on to win three meetings, drawing one in the first leg of their quarter final match up, while the Devils have two wins over Guildford including last nights win.
With the Devils advancing, they’ll face the Sheffield Steelers who they have had the upper hand over this year, with three wins out four games, and this meeting will only intensify the fierce rivalry that’s been brewing between the two clubs over the last couple of years.
The winner between the Devils and Steelers will go on to face a tough test against either the Nottingham Panthers or Belfast Giants who play in the other semi-final, with four teams looking to secure their place in the final on March 4th when it’s hosted in the Devils very own Ice Arena Wales.