Sheffield Steelers 3-0 Nottingham Panthers (5-1 aggregate) - Steelers book place in Challenge Cup Final

Geoff Walker - Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers 14/02/17. Pic Dean Woolley
Geoff Walker - Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers 14/02/17. Pic Dean Woolley
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If ever a result can supercharge a team’s season, this could be it.

Steelers are through to the Challenge Cup final after a 3-0 win (agg 5-1) over Nottingham Panthers.

Zack Fitzgerald loses his wrag in the first period. Pic by Dean Woolley

Zack Fitzgerald loses his wrag in the first period. Pic by Dean Woolley

Steelers have been wedged in third place in the league for weeks without much evidence of progressing forward.

And before last night’s semi final they saw d-man Christoffer Bjorklund depart back to Sweden - at what is a very odd time for the club.

So cementing a Cup final place is a confidence booster and could yet spill over into extra league consistency.

Zack Fitzgerald, missing from Sheffield’s last two matches, was soon off the ice again - serving a 10 minutes misconduct awarded after he retaliated, following a boarding on Davey Phillips.

Steelers’ feverishly busy line of Dowd-Valdix-Nelson opened the scoring, working the puck to Phillips, who fired through a screen at 7:52.

NHL veteran, Brian McGrattan, who scored twice against Sheffield last Saturday at the NIC and made his Panthers debut against the South Yorshire team last September, got into a good position but was neutralised well by Ben O’Connor.

Swedish goaltender Miika Wiikman kept the visitors in the game with a string of saves, one of them from John Armstrong on a breakaway.

But he was fortunate when defenceman Phillips cracked the puck against his cross bar.

The semi final boiled over at 32;21 when a check to Fitzgerald’s head by Jeff Brown led to a bout with Markus Nilsson. Brown was given a match penalty.

Neither side seemed to settle into their strides, although Colton Fretter placed the puck narrowly wide on a clear chance.

Having been stonewalled for two periods and two down on aggregate, Nottingham knew they would have to undergo a radical change in the final 20 minutes.

David Clarke tried his luck with an effort, but Ervins Mustukovs wasn’t threatened, while Wiikman had again to deal with a shot from the energised Phillips.

Penalties to Fitzgerald and Yared Hagos presented PP chances to Nottingham and Panthers pull their netminder with fully 3:37 left.

But Geoff walker’s empty-netter with two minutes remaining gift wrapped another shut-out victory - followed by a Levi Nelson goal with 32 seconds remaining.