Steelers close gap

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Sheffield Steelers overcame a stern test in a thrilling encounter at Hull Arena to cut the gap on Elite League leaders Cardiff Devils.

Two goals apiece from wingers Neil Clark and Jason Hewitt helped Steelers make it seven wins in a row and a resounding 13 victories from their last 14 games.

Last night’s success in East Yorkshire, coincided with Devils’ 5-3 defeat at Coventry Blaze, and that meant Steelers have moved three points behind with a match in hand.

Stingrays, backed by a rousing home support, made a strong start and Steelers’ goaltender Ervins Mustukovs produced a great save to deny Jereme Tendler, who then poked the rebound wide, in the opening five minutes.

Mustukovs then made an even better stop to thwart Tendler, Stingrays’ top goalscorer, again after good work from Andrew Coburn.

In between, Jeff Legue and Rob Dowd were foiled by Stingrays netminder Christian Boucher as the game switched from end to end.

Steelers took the lead in the 12th minute on the powerplay when Clark made no mistake from close range to register his 30th goal of the season.

But Stingrays levelled five minutes later when Coburn finished well after good work from Tendler.

Steelers were furious at the end of the first period when Rob Globke broke away - with Stingrays on a five-on-three powerplay – and fired into the net, but the buzzer sounded just a second before and referee Dean Smith waved the goal off.

Several players, including player-coach Ben Simon, remonstrated with the referee but the decision was made.

There was further drama just two minutes into the second period when Stingrays felt a shot from Aivars Gaisins had rocketed through the net.

Seconds later Steelers went ahead when Hewitt tipped a Dowd shot past Boucher from close in.

Stingrays and the officials went to check on the net for any holes but the game continued.

Mustukovs, who was pulled on his last trip to Hull Arena after letting in six goals from 25 shots in a 7-2 loss in December, then came to his side’s rescue once more.

He made an excellent save to keep out a Jozef Sladok shot after Stingrays had managed a two-on-one breakaway and was again solid from a Konstantin Kalmikov snap-shot.

But Stingrays pulled level for the second time in the match in the 38th minute when Finnish forward Matti Uusivirta tapped home after more good play from Coburn.

Steelers went ahead for the third time in the 46th minute when Clark claimed his second with the puck taking a deflection of a Stingrays player.

Four minutes later Steelers opened up a two-goal cushion.

A Steve Munn shot was blocked by Boucher and Hewitt bundled in the rebound for his second.

With seven minutes remaining, Mustukovs saved from Read but moments later Stingrays cut the deficit on the powerplay when Tendler fired home. Steelers were called for another powerplay and Stingrays pulled Boucher for an extra skater but the visitors managed to hang on.

Two goals from Greg Owen put the skids under Cardiff in the Midlands. Blaze went ahead initially but in a topsy turvy game the South Wales side twice took the lead. Eventually, 20 year old Aaron Nell scored the winner.