SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers recorded two impressive wins over the weekend against rivals Nottingham and Coventry, securing five wins out of their last six games.
The Steelers played host to arch rivals the Nottingham Panthers on Saturday evening, resulting in a 5-2 victory at the Motorpoint Arena.
The Panthers were boosted by the return of starting netminder Craig Kowalski after a being sidelined with an ankle injury since November. The side also handed a debut to former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Phil Oreskovic.
The visitors came out of the gates flying in the first period, and set the tone with some physical play when Phil Oreskovic introduced himself to Steelers star forward Rob Dowd at the end of the first shift exchanging pleasantries.
The Panthers broke the deadlock at 03:28 on the powerplay when Leigh Salters was perfectly placed in front of net to sail home a rebound, after a David Clarke slapshot from the point bounced nicely off the backboards for Salters to give his side a 1-0 lead.
A turnover less than a minute later almost gifted the Panthers a second when Matt Ryan found himself on a breakaway, only to be denied by a great save from Steelers netminder Frank Doyle.
The hosts pressed and came close at 7:53 after a nice effort from Rob Sirianni was swiftly turned aside by Kowalski with a low leg pad save.
The Steelers pressed and restored parity at 15:22 when Welsh forward Jonathan Phillips dispatched a rebound close range after an initial Tim Spencer wrap around attempt to make it 1-1.
Both teams went into the first period intermission level pegging after an evenly contested first period which the Steelers narrowly outshot the Panthers by 8-7.
A dominant second period saw the hosts take the lead early doors courtesy of Steelers Captain Steven Goertzen who fired home a quick fire double within five minutes to make it 3-1.
Nottingham responded and almost pulled one back on the powerplay when winger Greg Jacina fired agonisingly wide at 27:10.
Sheffield soon added a fourth after some great work from Italian international Nate DiCasmirro who fed a well placed Rob Dowd with a probing pass. The Billingham born forward made no mistake and fired low past Kowalski at 30:49.
Nottingham were resilient and soon pulled one back after Leigh Salters re-directed a great David Clarke shot from the point past a helpless Frank Doyle on the powerplay at 36:43.
Just one goal in the final period courtesy of a fortuitous Jeff Legue shot separated the two teams. Legue stepped up on the blueline and fired his shot via Panthers defenceman Jonathan Weaver’s stick which caught out Kowalski at 58:35.
The clock ticked away ensuring Sheffield collected the all important two points to help them move above Nottingham in the standings.
The Steelers travelled to the West Midlands on Sunday evening to take on the Coventry Blaze who were on a three game winning streak of their own after victories over Nottingham, Cardiff and Hull.
The Blaze were without injured duo Shea Guthrie and Benn Olson, while the Steelers were without injured forward Stefan Meyer.
The hosts started the game well and almost edged ahead when recent addition Kelsey Wilson rocketed a shot of the post in the second minute of the game.
Sheffield countered and came close when tough guy Tim Spencer was denied after a goalmouth scramble from Blaze netminder Mike Zacharias at 5:14.
The Steelers took the lead just over a minute later when Max Lacroix was on hand at the back post to dispatch a rebound from an initial Jeff Legue point shot at 6:19 to make it 1-0.
The Steelers added a second 50 seconds later when Rob Sirianni scored the goal of the game after a great rush from the Steelers zone, and he cut inside the slot and fired low past Zacharias to make it 2-0.
The visitors silenced a vocal crowd at the Skydome Arena when they added a third at 13:10 when Jason Hewitt jammed home a puck at the back post to give his side a healthy 3-0 lead.
The Steelers third prompted Blaze Head Coach Matt Soderstrom to call a timeout in desperate hope to rally his troops.
The tactical decision backfired as Sheffield hit a quick fire double firstly from Drew Fata and then a second goal of the game for Max Lacroix with both goals coming on the powerplay, giving the Steelers a 5 goal cushion late on in the first period.
Sheffield carried on where they left off in the second periods when Steve Goertzen re-directed a great pass from Rob Dowd high past Zacharias for his teams sixth of the night just 19 seconds into the middle stanza.
The Blaze fought back and got on the score sheet after a bad line change from the Steelers gifted them a 2-on-0. EIHL topscorer Ryan Ginand set up Blaze agitator Kevin Harvey (playing in his final game for the side) with a sublime pass, and Harvey fired high past a sprawling Frank Doyle at 21:45.
Sheffield countered and came agonisingly close at 29:18 when Jeff Legue thundered a slapshot off the crossbar signalling the visitor’s intent.
The hosts soon added a second after the impressive Adam Henrich tipped home a well placed shot from the point from Kenny Kallstrom at 32:39.
Less than two minutes later Ryan Ginand blasted home his 38th goal of the season to reduce the arrears to three and give a packed crowd at the Skydome a glimmer of hope at 34:19.
A final goal in the third period for the Blaze from former Steeler Ashley Tait wasn’t enough as Sheffield killed the game off and took the victory at the final buzzer to complete an impressive and much needed four point weekend.
Steelers Head Coach Doug Christiansen spoke after the game, “Give Coventry credit, they never quit and they came back, but we obviously did the heavy lifting in the first period. We scored two powerplay goals that were crucial for us,” Christiansen said.
“If somebody told me before the weekend we would have got two points and four regulation wins I would have taken it every time,” Christiansen added.
The Steelers now have a tough week ahead as they host Edinburgh Capitals on Wednesday night (29th January) before travelling to Belfast for a double header weekend.
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