Top-of-the-table Belfast Giants put another dent in Steelers’ fading title hopes with a penalty shot win in Sheffield.
Craig Peacock struck the winner in the second round of shots to give Belfast an eight-point lead over second-placed Sheffield, although Steelers have three games in hand on their rivals.
Lee Esders had given Sheffield a vital point with an equaliser in the dying minutes, but his team could not go on to take maximum points.
The game saw the welcome return of inspirational Steelers defenceman Rod Sarich after a three-month spell on the sidelines with a kidney injury and he took regular shifts from the start.
His return meant Neil Clark and Nick Duff were left out of the line-up as the extra imports.
Steelers made the better start to the game and had plenty of chances to go ahead but either could not find the final touch or were denied by the solid netminding of Stephen Murphy.
And they were made to pay for their lack of finishing just before the end of the opening session when, with Belfast on their first powerplay, the puck was deflected over the line. The goal was credited to former Steeler Robert Dowd – the player Sheffield had highlighted pre-game as one to watch out for.
It was proving a frustrating night for Sheffield’s forwards as all attacking options were quashed by the Giants’ defence. But they finally got their breakthrough on 26.28 as Jason Hewitt hit home from close range while on the powerplay.
The Giants showed why they are the title favourites by regaining the lead just 70 seconds later. As with their first goal, Steelers’ coach Ryan Finnerty was in the penalty box to watch Jon Pelle’s well-taken strike hit the back of the net.
But Sheffield were not finished. Just as it looked as though Belfast had managed to shut-down the game, Esders managed to poke the puck over the line to equalise with less than five minutes left on the clock.
With neither side able to find the winner after over-time, the game was finally resolved through penalty shots.
The teams meet twice more this season – a double-header in Belfast in a fortnight’s time. They are now must-win games for Sheffield if they are to have any chance of retaining their league title.
But first things first, Steelers will be looking to return to winning ways in Sheffield tonight when they entertain Hull Stingrays.