BLAZE head coach Chuck Weber knows his side are in for a ‘huge challenge’ after progressing to the Elite League play-off finals weekend.
After drawing 3-3 away at Nottingham Panthers on Saturday, Blaze booked their place in the final four for the second time in three years thanks to a 2-1 win in the second leg at the Skydome on Sunday night.
A 5-4 aggregate victory now means Weber’s side will meet Belfast Giants in the second semi-final with league champions Sheffield Steelers facing Hull Stingrays in the other tie.
“It is a great feeling but the big thing was we played to our identity, we scratched and clawed and were solid defensively,” said Weber.
“”It is going to be another huge challenge for us. We will put in the work this week to make sure we are prepared and it is going to be exciting for everyone. It is up to us to keep the ball rolling.
“Belfast are another team who are as skilled as they come. The last time we played them they had a guy who has played in the NHL (Kevin Westgarth) as a healthy scratch so that’s shows you how deep that team is.”
Blaze welcomed back Jereme Tendler for Sunday’s decider but were without Cale Tanaka.
It was the hosts who made a flying start and were 2-0 up inside six minutes.
Captain Ashley Tait scored the go-ahead goal in the fourth minute and Craig Cescon added a second 99 seconds later.
Cody Wild pulled a goal back for Panthers just before the half-hour mark before Steven Goertzen was unable to convert a penalty shot with ten minutes remaining which would have restored Blaze’s two-goal advantage.
But Blaze, who last lifted the play-off trophy in their Grand Slam-winning 2004/05 season, closed the game out and goaltender Brian Stewart made 37 saves as they booked a date in Nottingham next weekend.
“I could not be more proud,” said Weber. “We got off to a great start, Stewie made some big saves for us and our PK was really good.
“I have been really hard on them for the last five games of the regular season but they raised their game to another level in this series.
“Nottingham are a talented team with a lot of weapons but we stuck to our structure, we made sacrifices, we played the right way and we got the result we wanted.”
Ashley Tait celebrates his opener against Nottinham Panthers. (s) Photo by Scott Wiggins