Sheffield Steelers 5-1 Nottingham Panthers (7-6 aggregate) - Steelers come back to book semi-final spot in night of high drama
Steelers came back from the dead to secure a shock Play Off semi-final berth.
In a weekend of high drama, they won 5-1 at home after losing 5-2 the previous night NIC in the first qualifying leg. It couldn’t have been a tighter scoreline!
Sunday’s game was overshadowed by a neck injury to Panthers’ goalie Miika Wiikman. He was stretchered off, his wife by his side, before being taken by ambulance to hospital
That apart, it was a night when Sheffield found the form that eluded them for some of the previous night. With no other silverware available, it was vital for Sheffield to take Nottingham’s place at their rink next weekend.
Both sides played fast, ugly hockey in a first period high on hits, energy errors and bad bounces.
Markus Nilsson’s electric speed had almost unlocked the Panthers’ defence but there were few clear-cut chances.
Panthers were never going to over-commit offensively and Sheffield clawed their way back into the tie with 87 seconds left of the first period, Levi Nelson prodding past Wiikman, who claimed the puck hadn’t crossed the line.
The middle period was eclipsed by injury. Rob Dowd was punched in the face as he sliced through the middle- a minor incident broadcast twice on the big screen. No such recording was delivered when Wiikman stayed down John Armstrong drove the net.
Armstrong was ejected for “interference” - although there’s no evidence malice was intended. The centreman told The Star later: “I did not try to hit him. The officials were not going to give a call against me until they saw he was injured.”
Nottingham were negative in the extreme. The quality of their five-minute power play was so poor it made you wonder how they scored two PP efforts the night before.
Dan Green’s introduction in goal him soon beaten, short-handed, with speed-king Jonathan Phillips tucking the puck away short-handed for 2-0 at 37.30.
Nilsson, in Armstrong’s place, tied the aggregate score at 47;33. The waves of attacks continued until Dowd, running the Power Play, stuck home series lead at 55;23.
It wasn’t finished though-Chris Lawrence scored for Panthers with eight seconds left to send the game into overtime.
A heroic skate from Guillaume Desbiens won the series for Steelers.
Coach Paul Thompson said: “I wasn’t proud of the boys on Saturday, but I certainly was on Sunday evening. We look forward to competing hard for the Play Off trophy. We also hope that Miika makes a full recovery.”
Thompson dedicated the win to his wife, who’d picked him up after Saturday’s loss.