SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Steelers frustrating inconsistency continued this week with a 6-4 defeat in the Challenge Cup Semi Final to Nottingham, but then followed that up 24-hours later with a comprehensive 7-1 win over the Cardiff Devils.
The South Yorkshire side made the short journey down the M1 to Nottingham to try and overcome a 5-3 deficit from the first leg of the Challenge Cup Semi Final a week earlier against arch rivals Nottingham Panthers.
The visitors started the game strongly, but a mistake from Steelers defenceman Gord Baldwin allowed impressive Panthers forward Matt Ryan to skate in and slot the puck low past Frank Doyle to give his side a 1-0 lead at 04:40.
Sheffield countered and offered chances of their own, with Jason Hewitt forcing Panthers netminder Craig Kowalski into making a great glove save from the right wing slot at 05:18.
The hosts doubled their lead at 15:56 when towering forward Leigh Salters converted from the left wing slot as he was falling to the ice to make it 2-0 and 7-3 on aggregate.
Despite heavily outshooting the Panthers by 13-4 in the first period the Steelers lacked the offensive punch to find a way past Kowalski.
Nottingham stepped up a gear in the middle stanza and soon raced to a 4-0 lead after a goal from former Steeler Robert Farmer and another from defenceman Eric Werner just over three minutes into the second period.
The Panthers then added a fifth when former forward Greg Jacina found himself on a breakaway and calmly slotted the puck past Doyle low blocker side to silence the small but vocal travelling contingent of Sheffield fans at 28:26 after a nice pass from Jonathan Weaver.
Sheffield pressed and came close when Italian international Nate DiCasmirro came close with his strong backhand effort at 32:28.
The Steelers managed to get themselves onto the score sheet at 34:03 when the in-form Max Lacroix tapped the puck home from close range just after a fortuitous bounce off referee Tom Darnell, to reduce the arrears to four.
The visitors piled the pressure on in the latter stages of the period and it paid dividends when Nate DiCasmirro found Stefan Meyer all alone in the slot who fired low past Kowalski for his teams second of the night at 39:45.
Despite once again outshooting the Panthers the visitors still trailed at the end of the period by 5-2.
The hosts came out of the gates flying for the final period and soon added a sixth goal courtesy of young blueliner Tom Norton at 42:16 to extend his teams lead by four.
Tempers were frayed at 57:03 when Steelers tough guy Tim Spencer and Panthers d-man Phil Oreskovic dropped the mitts and traded some powerful blows with a draw the general consensus amongst both sets of fans.
Despite two further goals for the Steelers from defenceman Dustin Kohn and a second goal of the night from Max Lacroix, it wasn’t enough as the clock ticked away ensuring the Panthers took the 6-4 win and a emphatic 11-7 aggregate win to progress to the final of the Challenge Cup to take on EIHL champs the Belfast Giants.
The Steelers returned to home ice 24-hours later determined to make amends after the disappointing loss to the Panthers.
They did just that with a comprehensive 7-1 win against a short benched Cardiff Devils side.
The hosts were also without the injured duo of defenceman Mark Thomas and Captain/Interim Coach Steve Goertzen.
Sheffield got off to a strong start and offered several chances early on with DiCasmirro looking most likely to break the deadlock in the fifth minute, only to be denied by a great save from Devils netminder Kamil Kosowski.
The visitors offered chances of their own with Max Birbraer coming close at 07:21 after some great play along the boards in the Steelers zone.
At 09:21 the game turned physical when Robert Dowd was harshly assessed a 5+ game boarding penalty after he collided with Devils defenceman Mark Smith when battling for a puck in the Devils defensive zone, resulting in the blueliner having to be helped off the ice.
Many thought the collision warranted a two minute tripping penalty, but referee Mike Hicks thought otherwise and gave Dowd his marching orders and an early shower.
Sheffield rallied together after the call and expertly killed off the five minute powerplay with some resolute defending.
The visitors edged ahead at 15:22 courtesy of Tyson Marsh when he rifled a shot home high past Doyle with a sublime finish to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Sheffield countered and were level pegging just over a minute later when former Devil Chris Blight got a decisive tip from a Drew Fata point shot at 16:38 to make it 1-1.
A second period blitz from the hosts saw them net six further unanswered goals, to give them some much needed confidence after a barren offensive spell recently.
A Max Lacroix double, and single tallies from Tim Spencer, Jeff Legue, Stefan Meyer, and a 100th Elite League goal from Jason Hewitt had the vociferous Steelers crowd in raptures with the strong offensive display.
A scoreless and fairly uneventful third period between the two teams ensured that the scoreline remained 7-1 to the hosts, giving them some much needed confidence going into the weekend against Braehead and Nottingham.
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