COVENTRY Blaze’s season came to a premature end in the Elite Ice Hockey League play-off quarter-finals, after suffering a 12-2 defeat on aggregate to regular season champions Belfast Giants.
A 7-2 defeat at the Skydome Arena after a 5-0 drubbing in Belfast completed a disappointing end to Blaze’s season, but one that was always going to be a tough task against a Giants team that had beaten them in all eight encounters in the 2018/19 season.
Saturday’s first-leg at the SSE Arena was a showcase of the Elite League champions quality, as they put Blaze to the sword.
It took just over ten minutes for the opener to find the net, and from there it was one-way traffic for the hosts.
Top goal and point scorer Darcy Murphy put away the first past Matt Hackett, before Belfast pressed their advantage in the second period.
Jordan Smotherman (23.56) and Chris Higgins (30.19) put the Giants into a commanding lead, before Colin Shields – retiring at the end of the season, smashed home the fourth (42.19) in his final game at the SSE Arena.
Jonathon Ferland finished off the rout to give Coventry an almost impossible task in the second leg.
Head coach Danny Stewart expressed his disappointment and vowed that his side must up their levels in the second leg, but that did not look the case when replacement netminder Jordan Hedley was beaten by Ferland on 10.43.
Former NHL player Jim Vandermeer made it two (12.59) whilst Smotherman hit the first goal of an eventual hat-trick on (19.58) to put the Giants 8-0 up on aggregate going into the second period.
Dustin Johner put the game further out of reach (21.03), before a mini-revival was launched by Coventry who struck twice through Shawn Pauly (26.27) on the powerplay, followed by Ben Lake (30.37).
However, that’s as good as it got for Blaze, who fell further behind to Smotherman’s hat-trick goals (41.14 and 58.03) and Blair Riley’s late strike (59.31).
Stewart could not hide his dismay at exiting at the first hurdle of the play-offs, but felt his side were outclassed by the Giants.
“This weekend was a disappointment – I feel for the guys finishing on a low like this.
“We have faced a lot this season with the goal-tending situation, key injuries and players leaving.
“But, credit to Belfast. I have to tip my hat to them as they elevated their game to another level which we couldn’t match.”