Sheffield Steelers 2 Hull Stingrays 1 (Sunday)
Nottingham Panthers 1 Steelers 0 (Saturday)
STEELERS still have entry into the semi-final round of the Challenge Cup in their own hands after victory at iceSheffield last night.
In a hard-fought encounter with Hull, they won by a single goal, to complete a remarkably low scoring weekend of mixed results.
Sheffield have two Challenge Cup group games left and their fate will be sealed at Cardiff on December 23, as long as they have beaten Coventry 13 days earlier.
Hull are a different proposition from the team they twice put six past earlier in the season.
It was an uncomfortable start with Matt Stephenson’s feathers being ruffled by the attentions of 6ft 3ins Czech winger Frantisek Bakrlick.
But Sheffield’s offensive instincts started to warm up and Steve Birnstill - yet to score for the team in his debut year - hit the foot of Christian Boucher’s post on 4;19.
Tom Squires and Ryan Finnerty missed from close-range, but the breakthrough came when Finnerty fired through traffic for Colt King to make it 1-0 at 12;37.
Hull are a snappy and direct side and they had enough of the puck to indicate Steelers would have to work hard to add another.
When Stingrays did atack, they found home defenceman Chad Huttel - a modern day version of Jamie Van der Horst, a robust obstacle.
The defence had to kill a 66-second 5-on-3 power play in the second session and had netminder John Decaro to thank for blocking a bid drive from Martin Ondrej. Once back at full strength they scored almost immediately, RG Flath lunging into the slot to score acrobatically. Flath was back in action in the next shift - almost having his head severed under the goalie’s skate!
It was man of the match Flath that went on to threaten again, forcing a top-drawer save from Boucher.
But a hotly-disputed goal from newly-signed Andrew McKinney put Rays back in it, at 37;05. The goal framework seemed to be off the moorings when the puck went in.
Then DeCaro had to act smartly to stop Jason Silverthorn from equalising.
The home side were living dangerously, getting outnumbered in their own zone at the start of the last session.
Sliverthorn wasted another chance at one end before Finnerty’s shot battered the post at the other.
Hull, already out of semi final contention, were every bit as committed as Sheffield in the final minutes.
They were pretty physical too - with challenges that left Ashley Tait and Finnerty wincing, on occasions.
This was a game Finnerty’s men seemed happy to get over with, when the final buzzer went.
On Saturday, Nottingham inflicted their third straight win over Sheffield - but the gap in quality between the sides is fast reducing.
A single middle-period goal by David Clarke was enough to win this absorbing encounter, in which Sheffield outshot the home side 30-25.
Panthers’ penalty kill was arguably the most significatng factor, they killed a five minute power play after Jeff Heerema was given a five plus game for cross checking at 6.49.
Injured Steelers skipper Jonathan Phillips hopes to test his rehabilitated knee with a skating session tomorrow.