Sheffield Steelers: Title hopes burned by Blaze

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It’s a cruel irony that Coventry Blaze - the team Steelers boss Paul Thompson coached with distinction for 1,200 trophy-laden games - has all but wrecked his hope of lifting the Championship in his first year in charge at Sheffield.

Blaze beat misfiring Steelers at the Arena on Saturday - as they had done previously on December 20.

Then they went one better on Sunday by hammering them 5-1 at the Skydome.

It was the fourth straight time they have derailed Thompson’s bandwagon. And third-place Sheffield are nobody’s favourites to catch Braehead Clan or Cardiff Devilsi in the race for the title.

Sheffield’s offence was comprehensively throttled by Blaze, particularly on the power play - it’s a problem that needs sorting and one that is attracting criticism from Steelers’ own fans .

Last night, young Yorkshire goalie Brad Day showed growing maturity and positional sense with some fine saves: he could not be blamed.

Fredrik Vestberg - Sheffield Steelers v Coventry Blaze 30/01/16

Fredrik Vestberg - Sheffield Steelers v Coventry Blaze 30/01/16

It had all started well, Rod Sarich’s defence-splitter put Jonathan Phillips through and he scored. But the lead lasted just 21 seconds with James Jorgensen hitting home a bullet shot.

Eighth-placed Blaze took the lead at 23;17 through Jordan Peitrus’ expert tip-in.

Steelers were one second away from the end of a 5-on-3 penalty kill when the Canadian struck again, for 3-1. And 61 seconds later ex Steeler Jorgensen added another.

Discipline went out of the window, Zack Fitzgerald made a bloody mess of Pietrus and got an instigator and misconduct penalties.

With Jason Hewitt kicked out of the game, Michael Quesnele scored a late PP goal to rub in Blaze’s superiority.

Coach Thompson said: “Tonight the better team won - and yes, it is a dent in our title ambitions. But it is not over yet.”

On Saturday, Coventry disrupted Steelers’ rhythm after just 101 seconds. Sheffield lost the puck, Brenden Walker passed to Brett Robinson, who beat Day from close-range.

Stewart stuck out a leg to stop Phillips on 10 minutes, but the big goalie was effectively beaten by his own defence, at 14;27.

Quesnele tried a rash cross ice pass, Mathieu Roy deflected it into his own path, before sweeping it over Brian Stewart’s stick.

Fredrick Vestberg hit the bar, before Sheffield took the lead with a goal which illustrated Ben O’Connor’s sublime skill level.

He looked to shoot, deceived Stewart, before sliding the puck home.

It looked like Sheffield would add more, but Blaze levelled, Robinson looping the puck over Day.

You’d still have put money on Steelers. Yet the home PP was a disaster - not least a 97-second 5-on-3. Sheffield didn’t have the precision required. In the final seconds of both regular and overtime O’Connor came close to repeating his earlier goal, but couldn’t execute.

Penalty shots were drilled past Day by Drew Fisher and Pietrus - but Stewart stonewalled Tyler Mosienko and Ryan Hayes.

After Saturday’s loss, Zack Fitzgerald couldn’t assess how much damage hasd been done to the title race.

There were plenty of games left and the side “had to keep the chase going and keep things tight at the top.

Fitzgerald said: “You never know what is going to happen, hopefully things go our way and we get some help from other teams.

“It hurts to lose at home, hurts to lose at any time.

Especially when you get down to the final run, when everything is important and you want to win every game.”