Sheffield Steelers 4 Nottingham Panthers 3 (Sunday)
Dundee Stars 3 Sheffield Steelers 4 (Saturday)
THERE is no such thing as a dead-rubber game when the puck is dropped between Steelers and Panthers.
And last night, with both clubs already en route to their quarter final Challenge Cup berths, they still battled out an entertaining game at the Group stage in front of a crowd of 6,400 at the Arena.
Form-team Nottingham, who went top of the league during a five game winning streak, twice came back from behind to take the match into overtime.
Steelers, whose players had arrived back from their Scottish game the previous night up in Dundee at 4.30am on Sunday, staged a sleepy start and the crowd had to wait seven minutes before Lee Esders became the first skater to trouble Craig Kowalski.
But they took the lead 88 seconds later when Ashley Tait snapped up a loose puck on the centre blue line, darted closer to goal and shot the puck in off the underside of the bar.
Panthers responded by mounting a series of raids which promised a goal.
Matthew Myers threatened first and narrowly missed scoring from a far post cross but then Panthers caught Danny Meyers on a 2-on-1 rush, Pat Galivan firing low and causing a quite superb save from John DeCaro.
While Jim Jorgensen caught the eye with some speedy work down the left, it was Nottingham creating the more concerted offence and they outnumbered the home blue line again, Robert Lachowicz firing over.
Sheffield’s luck ran out at 18:50, Carolina Hurricanes’ ‘NHL lock-out’ forward Anthony Stewart scoring past DeCaro’s right-hand.
A spot of puck ping-pong in front of DeCaro saw Panthers take the lead on 23:04, workaholic Brandon Benedict slotting home easily from close range.
But it was the only blip on an otherwise near faultless period.
Kowalski had to make two excellent saves from Steve Goertzen and Jason Hewitt, but then conceded two goals.
First, on a power play, Matt Stephenson made the most of Goertzen’s shield and fired home at 25:43.
Just 24 seconds later, Hewitt finished off a rapier-quick attack, banging in a belter from the right circle, to make it 3-2.
The match turned on its head in the third period.
Hewitt somehow had a goal-bound effort saved but then Panthers took advantage of a poor Sheffield line change.
The home side couldn’t get across to the far side to stop a pass being converted by Stewart.
Overtime saw Tom Sestito, who had looked out of sorts at times, redeem himself, driving in from the left and forcing the puck home for the winner.
Saturday’s League game at Dundee bore all the hallmarks of a banana skin for Steelers given Stars’ home sequence of seven straight wins on their own ice.
Yet Sheffield dominated and took a 3-1 lead. However, Dundee hit back and levelled but the visitors had enough energy to craft an overtime winner through Tylor Michel.
Sheffield were unable to contain Sami Ryhänen, Stars’ effervescent Finnish centre, and he scored a hat-trick.
But Jeff Legue, Tom and Shawn Limpright scored Sheffield’s regular time goals, as the side peppered Nic Riopel with 46 shots.