Coventry Blaze took the lead at Sheffield Arena this evening and never relinquished it in a ‘Before the Lord Mayor’s Show’ game 23 hours before Steelers compete for the Challenge Cup Final at Cardiff Devils’ rink.
Eighth-placed Coventry, who started the night 24 points behind Steelers in the standings, were hoping the hosts were distracted and maybe sensed this was a good time to play Paul Thompson’s men, with Colton Fretter and Andreas Valdix absent.
Mathieu Roy, always a crucial player for Steelers, was the victim of a hefty hit in the early stages by Kevin Noble.
Blaze killed a penalty and then went ahead, Matt Marquardt, Blaze’s tormentor-in-chief (unassisted) at 11:43 in the game nobody at Sheffield wanted.
Coventry, who are bottom of the Erhardt Conference, rode their luck a little as Steelers had a couple of clear chances on Brian Stewart’s goal.
But in fairness, they haven’t enjoyed much luck against Sheffield this season, and will feel they deserved the lead they took into the first interval, specially after killing a second penalty, Noble (Cross Checking.)
Home goalie Ervins Mustukovs was put under further pressure as Coventry sought to build on their advantage.
Mike Ratchuk lifted spirits for Steelers with one typically penetrative skate and effort on goal.
And Rod Sarich came within a whisker of levelling with a shot against the crossbar.
But Blaze took advantage of under-strength Steelers with a second goal, from Brett Robinson (assists Jordan Pietrus, Robin Bergman) at 30:50.
Shefield bought themselves a lifeline with 30 seconds left of the period.
Robert Dowd got one back, after good work from Levi Nelson and Zack Fitzgerald.
But Blaze struck a killer blow in the last period.
TJ Syner took just 57 seconds to score a third - and then Shawn Boutin, on a power play, added another at 43;08.
That singled a change in netminder, Mustukovs gave way to Brad Day.
The game seemed lost and bigger challenges lie in store for the Latvian tomorrow, in Wales.