Ice hockey: Damage already done in title race

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IF AN autopsy is to be carried out on the body of Sheffield Steelers’ title hopes, it won’t be this weekend’s losses that will be recorded as the cause of death.

There is no disgrace in being defeated, as they were on Friday, at Nottingham Panthers, who are a team bearing explosive offence and seasoned professionalism.

Nor a 3-1 loss Belfast on Saturday, a proud club juggling off-ice issues as well as staging a vibrant part in the championship race.

While these were two must-win games which Sheffield lost, maybe the title hunt had started to fall apart, earlier in the campaign.

It was lapses like an iceSheffield loss to Edinburgh Capitals, in December, or defeat at Fife in October. Or was it losses to middle of the pack title no-hopers like Cardiff Devils or Coventry Blaze that really cost them the season’s main silverware?

Fourteen points remain for Steelers to harvest, but Steelers are five points behind leaders Nottingham, who have two games in hand and were ruthless 5-0 winners in Braehead on Saturday.

On the same night, Sheffield nosedived 3-1 at Giants, putting in a performance which lacked discipline (Simon Ferguson for instance, taking unnecessary boarding and roughing minors after clashing with Adam Keefe) and character. Coach Ryan Finnerty was “disappointed with the reaction I got from some guys.”

Mark Garside bundled the puck home for the Irish at 9.32 and while Sheffield were having more shots, Giants doubled the margin with a wrap around from Keefe.

At 49.17 a poorly marked Darryl Lloyd skated straight through Steelers’ central defence and put the game beyond doubt, although Tylor Michel scored near the end, with a smart one-timer. It was little consolation for the visiting fans among the 4,683 there.

Last night, Sheffield’s self-belief was put into question as early as the seventh minute when the highly-skilled Sami Ryhanen put next-to-bottom Dundee ahead.

Finnety’s men put a dozen shots on Canadian goalie Nic Riopel but couldn’t get past him in a morale testing first period.

Two unanswered Power Play goals put Steelers in front after the interval, Jeff Legue scoring the first after a Riopel fumble (25;49) and then helping in the move that saw Matt Stephenson make it 2-1 at 38;16.

Legue completed his PP master-class for the 745 fans with a second goal with six minutes left to complete a 3-1 victory.