Sheffield Steelers 5
Cardiff Devils 3
Nottingham Panthers 3
ASKING Steelers fans to accept their team is not as good as Nottingham Panthers is like inviting a Man United supporter to wear pale blue today.
But Saturday’s shut-out defeat at Notts, showed that Panthers, for the time being at least, have Sheffield’s number.
Losing to your hockey ‘derby’ rivals hurts most. And the fact that Panthers have beaten them twice in the Challenge Cup has undermined their hopes of qualifying from the Group stage. Like Notts, Steelers may be interested in American right wing and former Panther Rob Bellamy who has been released by his ECHL club, Elmira Jackals.
Unlike Panthers, they have a lot of work to do to reach the semis. Last night, they won a game that was in the balance until the final minutes.
They suffered a fourth minute reverse at iceSheffield when John DeCaro could only partially block a shot, leaving the puck on the line for Max Birbraer to touch in.
But Sheffield looked to Jeff Legue to pull them back and their most influential playmaker started a Power Play move that he finished to level at 1-1.
Ashley Tait was victim of a dangerous boarding from the back and on the resulting PP Steve Birnstill crashed a shot against the post. But the let off for the Welsh didn’t last long and and Scott Matzka appeared to score in his own goal, for 2-1 to Sheffield, the strike credited to Colt King.
Steelers suffered a painful start to the middle session, Neil Clark being off the ice after a head injury and Ryan Finnerty clobbered in the midriff.
But there was encouraging movement which created chances, Mike Ramsay firing the best chance over. They deserved a third goal which arrived when Lee Esders led a two-man rush, rightly selecting a shot rather than a pass, which went in off the goalie’s blocker.
But the home defence continued to have issues with Devils pace and power. Matzka missed a clear chance, Phil Hill hit a post before Scott Dobben made it 3-2.
It was now like a hit-free basketball match with every attack at both ends looking like a goal was on its way; with Legue and Brad Voth trading goals. Devil’s netminder Stevie Lyle put an end to the flow with a super save from King, one of Steelers’ top performers of the night, while DeCaro did the same from Jeff Pierce.
The visitors had the lion’s share of possession as they chased the equaliser, but they were hit on the break with King rattling in a slapshot from the left circle, to give Sheffield a slightly flattering 5-3 win.
On Saturday, Panthers inflicted their second Steeler drubbing in six days. Netminder Craig Kowalski turned away 21 shots secure his side a semi-final place.
The game was even until 27.04 when Brandon Benedict scored and the points were wrapped up by Marc Levers at 35.25. Sheffield, who sat out eight times more penalty minutes, pulled goalie John DeCaro as they went seeking a consolation, but Matthew Myers hit an empty netter with 40 seconds left.
Hull Stingrays are expected to bring Kurtis Dulle back to the club.