Nottingham Panthers 5-2 Sheffield Steelers

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Sheffield Steelers' mini season ended in disappointment on Sunday night, losing their second play off final game in consecutive evenings to Nottingham Panthers, who were justifiably crowned the 2021 champions.

Steelers were beaten 5-2 in a game in which they were behind for 58 minutes.

Losing a final in Nottingham leaves a sour taste for Sheffield s veteran players, their guest homegrown skaters drafted specially for the EIHL tournament, and the new imports alike.

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The side bristling with the most explosive firepower, had run out of bullets.

But on the positive side, the Sheffield club can be proud of what they achieved off the ice - they played a huge part in persuading the Government to allow a return-to-play - and on the ice, in reaching the final.

It's just a pity they didn't have a big 60 minute performance left in them when they needed it most.

Coach Aaron Fox had elected to move Liam Kirk down to the third line for the crunch game, Jonathan Phillips taking the top line spot.

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But his side were far-from-impressive from the puck drop, showing little of the play-off intensity fans had expected and forwards getting little to nothing on Panthers' net, occupied by Ben Bowns.

John Muse saves Robert Lachowicz Pic by Dean WoolleyJohn Muse saves Robert Lachowicz Pic by Dean Woolley
John Muse saves Robert Lachowicz Pic by Dean Woolley

Sheffield goalie John Muse had to come out of his net to glove-save Robert Lachowicz in the early seconds and the white shirts of Yorkshire slipped 0-1 behind when a turnover was punished by Austin Cangelosi, slotting under Muse's pad, assisted by Owen Griffiths at 2:44.

The only statistics that Steelers were leading in were mistakes and misplaced passes.

And Muse was left having to deal with shots from Kevin Domingue, Johno May and Nick Dineen in quick succession.

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Panthers were quick on the forecheck and less wasteful on the puck and at the first interval supporters watching on a web stream must have been wondering what had happened to the team that became top seeds in the regular section of the tournament.

Confrontation at the Steelers goal Pic by Dean WoolleyConfrontation at the Steelers goal Pic by Dean Woolley
Confrontation at the Steelers goal Pic by Dean Woolley

Just three shots on goal in 20 minutes was a recipe for disaster. It was all too sterile and a new focus was needed.

Fox's dressing room words initiated a more enthusiastic Steeler contribution to the game, with Tanner Eberrle landing a big hit and then drawing a penalty.

Three shots put Bowns under pressure for the first time, but still there were dangerous efforts at the other end.

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The game certainly appeared to be slipping away when Jérémy Beaudry was forced to serve a 2+2 penalty for high-sticking.

Josef Mikyska gives chase  Pic by Dean WoolleyJosef Mikyska gives chase  Pic by Dean Woolley
Josef Mikyska gives chase Pic by Dean Woolley

While Sheffield killed the first three minutes they conceded the second of the night Nick Dineen converting at 29:10.

If the scoreline and another shut-out period was an obvious problem for Steelers, so, potentially, was Muse, who seemed to be struggling with injury.

While Robert Dowd had worked hard to provide a reply, it was essential that others stepped up in the offensive zone.

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They had a power play opportunity at the start of the third period and at the end of it Sheffield finally got back into it - Dowd stroking Josef Mikyska's rebound over the line, at 41:57.

Sheffield were playing desperate hockey.

But they were suddenly 1-3 down when Lachowicz won a face off and a speculative effort from Lewis Hook sneaked in, at 49:53.

Steelers earned two power plays, the second a four minute advantage after Brendan Connolly was high-sticked by Joshua Tetlow with six minutes remaining.

Connolly, wiped off the blood from his facial wound, and bundled the puck home between them to reduce the deficit to 2-3.

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Sheffield had four minutes to level, but their desire to pour forward left them open at the back and Domingue made the game safe for the newly-installed EIHL mini champions before an empty netter from Cangelosi.