Belfast Giants 0 Sheffield Steelers 5: The night Steelers proved they are championship contenders
It’s a scoreline that tells the rest of the League that top-of-the-table Sheffield Steelers must now be viewed as credible championship contenders.
For the first time this season, they beat one of the three other teams in the current top four – a performance based on immaculate defending, stellar goaltending, all-round discipline and some selfless forward play.
Giants are in the middle of a six-away-game spell – their last two at Cardiff Devils, where they accomplished double victories.
But this is a 5-0 road trip hammering they are going to want to forget...and forget quickly.
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Initially, Tomas Duba’s workload in Sheffield’s goal was heavy as Ryan Lowney shot through traffic before putting another good chance wide – a wastefulness replicated by Curtis Hamilton.
A cross-ice pass from Eric Meland was intercepted and Duba had to thwart Brian Ward.
John Armstrong also lost possession and could have been punished by Lewis Hook, who sent the puck wide.
But a smart back-check from Nikolai Lemtyugov set up Robert Dowd – and that was the moment the offensive tide started to turn.
Steelers exhibited some fancy training-ice moves on the power play. And they took the lead with Ward in the penalty box, Lucas Sandström converting from close range, assisted by Marek Troncinsky at 16;46.
Steelers, without injured duo Marco Vallerand and Aaron Johnson, had an almost perfect middle period, defending well when they had to and then hitting back ruthlessly.
A pleasing feature in Sheffield finding the net was the unselfish way forwards chose to pass rather than go for glory themselves.
At 28:28, Brendan Connolly hared off on a breakaway and just as he looked like pulling the trigger, he made a short for Anthony DeLuca to pop over the line.
Then Lemtyugov picked out John Armstrong in a better position – and the centreman did the rest.
Giants must have been shell-shocked to concede two in 72 seconds, after they had again had some quality chances on Duba’s net.
But worse was to come for the EIHL champions.
First Patrick Mullen’s shot hit the Sheffield post, then Belfast failed to score on a power play...followed by DeLuca burying his second of the night at 37:00.
Steelers had won all but one of their last eight home games and now this one was in the bag.
Giants were their own worse enemies, misplacing passes and turning over the puck – one such incident punished by Armstrong for 5-0 at 49:36.
David Goodwin missed a penalty shot near the end – summing up their fortunes for the evening.
Meanwhile Duba was left celebrating his first shut out in a Steeler shirt.