SHEFFIELD, U.K. – For the second consecutive year the Sheffield Steelers will not be at the Playoff Final weekend after enduring a tough 6-5 aggregate loss to the Coventry Blaze, with the decisive goal being scored in overtime.
The Steelers first travelled to the Skydome Arena on Saturday evening to take on the Blaze for the first leg of the highly antici pated playoff fixture.
The game had the usual feisty and ferocious style that both teams like to play, with the much-maligned referee Mike Hicks taking charge of both games over the weekend.
The Steelers came out of the gates strong and put the hosts on the back foot, with former Blaze star Ashley Tait forcing a good low leg pad save from Peter Hirsch in the third minute.
The visitors struck first on the powerplay at 07:28 when former NHL’er Drew Fata was on hand to fire home a loose puck after a goalmouth scramble to give his team a 1-0 lead.
The Blaze pressed and had good chances of their own with rugged defenceman Mike Egener being denied with a good glove save from Steelers netminder John DeCaro in the fourteenth minute.
The Steelers came close to doubling their lead in the final minute of the first period with Simon Ferguson being denied from close range with a spectacular sprawling save from Peter Hirsch in the Blaze goal.
Sheffield went into the first period break with a 1-0 lead after out shooting the Blaze by 16-11.
A more evenly contested second period saw the Steelers edge ahead early on with Jason Hewitt firing high past Hirsch from the left wing slot to give his team a two goal cushion at 24:36.
The visitors two-goal lead was short lived when Adam Henrich pulled one back for the hosts just over a minute later at 25:35 when he was the first player on hand to net a low rebound after an initial James Griffin shot.
The Steelers almost regained the two-goal cushion when feisty forward Simon Ferguson struck the post at 33:46 with a low goal bound effort.
The Steelers started the third period strongly and almost grabbed another goal, when Ashley Tait hit the post on a breakaway at 44:31.
Steelers fan favourite Tylor Michel netted his teams third of the night after he dispatched a low rebound past Hirsch, in a great move that Michel started in the neutral zone at 45:28.
The Blaze did pull a goal back through their influential Captain Shea Guthrie at 53:45 as he fired 5-hole past John DeCaro to give his team some hope of a late fight back.
The goal from Guthrie galvanised his team into action, and the Steelers were well and truly on the back foot for the remainder of the game, and had to rely on some great goaltending from John DeCaro to keep the Blaze efforts at bay, with the Steelers hanging on to the slender 3-2 lead at the final buzzer.
The Blaze returned the favour 24 hours later and made the 88-mile journey to Sheffield in hope of avenging the previous nights defeat, in front of a sell out crowd at Ice Sheffield.
The Steelers started brightly with Jason Hewitt threatening early on, with a good wrist shot effort.
The Blaze grabbed the opener against the run of play with Shea Guthrie capitalising on a Steelers defensive blunder, as he friend low past John DeCaro from the slot to make it 1-0 and to tie the game on aggregate at 6:27.
The impressive Adam Henrich almost doubled the Blaze’s lead but was foiled by John DeCaro in the Steelers goal at 8:38.
At 10:03 the Blaze made it 2-0 on the powerplay courtesy of Shea Guthrie who blasted home a one timer slapshot from the top of the left circle, the goal giving the Blaze a 4-3 aggregate lead.
The Blaze pressed and piled further pressure on the Steelers, and were close to a third when Dustin Cameron ringed a shot off the crossbar in the fifteenth minute.
Just as the opening period was coming to an end the Blaze pantomime villain Benn Olson and Tylor Michel traded blows with both players being assessed double minors for roughing and slashing.
Olson was fortunate to have not been handed a harsher penalty for his part in the altercation with a vicious slash on Michel as he was down on the ice.
The Steelers composed themselves and came out for a much stronger second period. Simon Ferguson had a good chance in front of the Blaze goal but was denied by the impressive Peter Hirsch at 23:13.
The Blaze thought that they had scored at 24:18 with Brad Leeb blasting a slapshot, which looked to have gone in the Steelers net, but came out via a hole. After checking the net and consultation with the goal judge, referee Mike Hicks deemed it to not be a goal.
The hosts brought the game to within a goal when the Steelers pounced on a turnover in the Blaze zone, with Rod Sarich rifling home a slapshot from the point low past Hirsch to level the game 4-4 on aggregate at 30:13.
The Steelers levelled the game regained the aggregate lead just over a minute later when a great pass from Steve Goertzen was re-directed by Tylor Michel in front of goal past Hirsch to make it 2-2.
The Steelers regained momentum in the game after Michel’s goal, but any efforts were thwarted by Blaze netminder Peter Hirsch, with an impressive display of goaltending.
The Blaze started the third period strongly, and hit the metalwork themselves, when Adam Henrich struck the nearside post with a thunderous wrist shot in the 45th minute.
At 46:50 came a turning point in the game when Mike Egener blasted a shot form the point that was tipped by Dustin Cameron into the net, but the Steelers players were vehemently protesting that the goal was a high stick and shouldn’t have stood.
The goal did stand and it meant the Blaze took the lead in the game and levelled the aggregate score, and with no further scoring remaining the game headed to overtime.
In the closing stages of the third period Steelers defenceman Drew Fata was contentiously handed an interferences penalty, gifting the Blaze a powerplay advantage.
The Blaze took to the ice with a 4-on-3 advantage and capitalised with Captain Shea Guthrie rifling home a one-timer slapshot to complete his hattrick and to ensure that his team would be at the Playoff Final weekend in Nottingham next week.
Steelers Head Coach Ryan Finnerty offered his thoughts after the game, “Seeing us go out like that for the second year running hurts like mad. I’m mad right now, hurt, frustrated, upset a whole range of emotions flowing through me. We played so well on Saturday. Coventry came out and played very well in the first period and for whatever reason we were slow out of the blocks. Johnny kept us in that first period, it could have been 3 or 4,” Finnerty said.
“This is a crazy situation, when you lose in the play off’s you normally have all summer to feel the pain and be miserable. Today though we get up and go to the rink to practice one last time ahead of the Cup Final. It will be a very strange feeling later today with the guys,” Finnerty added.
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