Sheffield Steelers face mountain of task to reach final

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If Sheffield Steelers are going to secure a place in the Challenge Cup final, it might be an idea if the forwards scored a goal or two.

Last night, in the semi final first leg 5-3 defeat, all their goals against Nottingham, came from defencemen.

Steelers v Panthers

Steelers v Panthers

Not for the first time this season, the big guns were silenced.

Corey Neilson’s men have won the Challenge Cup four years running - and look odds-on to make the final again now. Panthers can be even more formidable at home too - but Sheffield coach Doug Christiansen won’t be about to raise the white flag.

Panthers, who beat Steelers 5-2 last Saturday, focused their early offensive work down Steelers’ left.

Matt Francis, twice, Greg Jacina and Leigh Salters all found a chink in Sheffield’s armoury as they tore towards the curtain end.

And while Phil Hill had a clear chance for Sheffield, it was Panthers who went ahead at 12:21.

With the crowd applauding Dustin Kohn, the puck switched up ice to Salters who posted past home goalie Frank Doyle, for 0-1.

Panthers then lost their discipline. They were serving a penalty when Brent Henley cross-checked Stefan Meyer, off the play.

On the resulting 5-on-3 power play, Chad Langlais made the most of a slip by Robert Lachowicz and motored in to equalise, at 14:29.

Sheffield, without injured Rob Dowd and with Tim Spencer dropped, were unlucky when what appeared a justifiable Chris Blight goal was disallowed at 16:14.

Two goals in 20 seconds rocked Steelers. Robert Lachowicz’s wrist shot from the slot at 26:23 was followed by another defensive lapse, Robert Farmer left alone on the back post.

Jason Hewitt, who needs one goal for 100 goals in all EIHL competitions, was the most passionate Steeler on the ice, and Jonathan Phillips continually threatened.

But at 3-1 down it was looking ominous. However, with Jeff Legue shielding goaltender Craig Kowalski, Drew Fata slammed home Sheffield’s second of the night, at 29:27.

Legue hit the post soon after.

A ‘run and gun’ third period started with a cracking drive into the back of Notts net from Gord Baldwin. Parity at 3-3 had been achieved. Surely Steelers could not prize the initiative away from the visitors?

It was not to be with Clarke hitting the post and Petr Kalus burying the rebound.Jacina could could have scored on a breakaway for Panthers, before Klaus added a late goal.

Steelers play the second leg at the NIC on Tuesday).

They are going to need something very special.