SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers narrowed the gap in the EIHL table on the Nottingham Panthers after beating them 5-2 at the Motorpoint Arena on Sunday evening.
The Steelers firstly made the long journey up to Glasgow to take on the Braehead Clan, another team ironically owned by Neil Black, who also owns the Nottingham panthers. Both teams came out strong for the first period with recent Clan addition Matt Schepke forcing a good glove save from Steelers netminder John DeCaro in the opening two minutes.
The Steelers took the lead at 04:29 courtesy of Captain Jonathan Phillips who was all alone in the slot and fired high past Clan goaltender Daren Machesney after a good pass from Shawn Limpright to make it 1-0.
The hosts were back on level terms at 09:46 when recently returned Player/Coach Jordan Krestanovich (whom has apparently been sidelined with a mystery illness) was on hand to tap home a rebound from a Steven Birnstill slapshot to make it 1-1.
The Steelers regained their lead at 13:16 when Steven Goertzen fired low blocker side past Machesney from the slot to make it 2-1, after a nice pass from behind the net by Shawn Limpright.
The hosts came close to equalising moments later with former Steeler Rob Farmer coming agonisingly close with an impressive wrist shot.
In the second period Sheffield asserted themselves by outshooting the Clan by 20-7.
At 24:00 the Steelers forged a two goal lead courtesy of Steven Goertzen as he re-directed an Ashley Tait shot from the left face-off circle to make it 3-1.
The Clan pulled a goal back at 26:36 on the powerplay with a rocket from the blueline courtesy of Matt Hanson beating John DeCaro with a low drive.
The Steelers pressed and piled shot after shot on Machesney with Jeff Legue and Jason Hewitt both coming close for the visitors.
The Clan levelled the game at 31:54 through their Captain Ash Goldie as he beat John DeCaro with a low slapshot from the high slot to make it 3-3.
The Steelers came close in the 34th minute with the impressive Simon Ferguson firing wide on a 1-on-1 chance, but he did force Clan new boy Craig Cescon into sitting out a tripping penalty.
The Steelers couldn’t take advantage of the Cescon penalty but were gifted another powerplay shortly after, as Kevin Phillips was handed a hooking penalty by referee Neil Wilson at 35:45.
Phillips could only watch in dismay from the penalty box as Steven Goertzen netted on the powerplay back post from close range to complete his hattrick marker and give the Steelers a 4-3 lead at 37:28.
Both teams came out for a more evenly contested third period, sharing chances early on.
The hosts came close at 41:18 with Toms Hartmanis forcing DeCaro into making a good save.
The Steelers soon netted their fifth of the night thanks to lynchpin defenceman Rod Sarich, who’s snapshot from the blueline found its way past Machesney in the Clan goal to make it 5-3 at 49:39 on the powerplay.
The hosts pulled one back at 55:37 when Ash Goldie re-directed a Robert Farmer shot in front of the net to beat DeCaro, to ensure a nervy finish to the game.
Despite a couple of late efforts from the Clan, the Steelers held firm up until the final buzzer to take the 5-4 win and the all important two points.
The Steelers then returned south of the border 24 hours later to take on old foes the Nottingham Panthers in a must win game if they are to still challenge for title honours.
A packed crowd at the Motorpoint Arena witness an impressive performance from the Steelers in their quest to close the gap on the table-topping Panthers. The Steelers came away with a 5-2 win, a score that slightly flattered them, but one they deserved nonetheless.
Both teams came out strongly for the opening period with Pat Galivan testing John Decaro early on.
The Panthers were gifted a powerplay at 2:18 when Mark Thomas was assessed a minor penalty for tripping by Referee Mike Hicks, whom took some flak from both teams fans for his performance.
The Panthers came close to breaking the deadlock on the powerplay with Robert Lachowicz forcing John DeCaro into making a good glove save at 3:50 from the right wing.
The Steelers pressed and came close from Simon Ferguson when he made a great spin-o-rama play past Jason Beckett and backhanded low into Craig Kowalski’s body armour in the seventh minute.
The Steelers were first to get on the scoresheet at 13:29 on the powerplay with Jeff Legue firing a rocket from the blueline, which was deflected by a Panthers defenceman low past Kowalski to make it 1-0, the goal being Legue’s 25th of the season.
Legue added his second of the night just over two minutes later when he fired a laser of a wristshot top shelf past Kowalski glove side, to make it 2-0 at 15:31.
The visiting Panthers would return fire, and pulled a goal back at 16:24 courtesy of Brandon Benedict who was all alone in front of the Steelers net, and he beat John DeCaro with a backhand shot glove side, much to the delight of the travelling Panthers fans.
At the next face-off Kelsey Wilson and Simon Ferguson renewed their acquaintances with the Panthers winger offering Ferguson to drop the gloves. As Wilson was pestering Ferguson, the feisty Steelers forward broke down the left wing and fired a perfectly timed pass back post where Ashley Tait was on hand to fire past Kowalski to make it 3-1 just six seconds later at 16:30.
The Steelers fans were still celebrating when the games talking point happened just 17 seconds later.
The Panthers broke from the face-off and David Clarke fired a shot in on DeCaro which he initially saved.
DeCaro then covered the puck and a scramble ensued in his crease to which the puck was judged to have crossed the line by referee Mike Hicks. The Steelers players protested vehemently, but to no avail as the goal was given and it was awarded to David Clarke at 16:47.
As the period was coming to an end, Panthers’ Matt Francis raised his stick and caught Steelers defenceman Drew Fata in the face, but no penalty was called on the play.
The Steelers pressed and netted a fourth at 23:15 when Matt Stephenson struck a post after a nice drop pass from Shawn Limpright.
At 26:00 the Steelers were given a 2 minute minor kneeing penalty as Shawn Limpright collided in a badly timed hit with Robert Lachowicz, with the Panthers player coming off worse.
Lachowicz would go to the locker room for a few minutes, but would go on to play the rest of the game, and be one of the Panthers better players during the game.
At 27:09 the Panthers almost equalised as David Clarke struck John DeCaro’s post from the left wing.
Despite outshooting the Panthers 9-4 in the second period, neither team could find the back of the net, in a more evenly contested middle stanza.
The Panthers came out strong in the opening stages of the third period, with the visitors having some good possession in the Steelers zone.
The Panthers came close with Kelsey Wilson forcing DeCaro into making a good save.
The Steelers came close to scoring at 54:35 when Shawn Limpright came out of the penalty box and found himself 1-on-1 in the Panthers zone, firing a slapshot at Kowalski, which the Panthers keeper duly turned away.
The Steelers came close again in the 57th minute with Matt Stephenson striking the post for the second time in the game, with a low wristshot.
At 58:50 the Steelers netted their fourth of the night in empathic fashion courtesy of former Panther Scott Champagne who magnificently toe dragged the puck through defenceman Steve Lee’s legs and shot top shelf past Kowalski glove side, in one of the best goals that the Motorpoint Arena has witnessed in recent years to make it 4-2.
The Panthers decided to pull netminder Craig Kowalski in favour of an extra attacker, with the move backfiring as Steven Goertzen calmly slotted the puck in the empty net at 59:13 to make it 5-2.
The clock ticked away and the Steelers held firm to take a 5-2 victory, a scoreline which slightly flattered them, but a fully deserved win nonetheless.
Steelers Head Coach Ryan Finnerty offered his thoughts after the game, “ I don’t think anyone could say we didn’t deserve that win. I thought every guy gave me everything they had,” Finnerty said.
“We came out and contained when we had to and then create some good offensive chances our selves. I thought we out chanced Nottingham in quality chances tonight. We hit the post three times,” Finnerty added.
“Hey this was always a must win game, a 4 pointer. We won it, we close the gap to 5 and we play them twice more. We put a little pressure on them now. Still a lot of hockey to be played,” Finnerty concluded.
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