The Sheffield Steelers were hurting from the previous night’s 5-2 defeat to visiting Belfast Giants and played out a highly entertaining, yet frustrating performance against the same opponents.
With that scoreline and the potential damage to the title race haunting them, the Steelers flew out of the blocks with a barrage of shots and chances in the opening few minutes. They made the pressure tell when Yared Hagos collected the puck up behind the goal and picked out Luke Ferrara to take a touch and dispatch the opening goal of the night.
Giants’ goalie Stephen Murphy pulled off a fantastic leg stretching save to deny Jonathan Phillips, but found himself floundering inside his own net less than a minute later as Mathieu Roy fired past him to double the Steelers’ lead. Paul Thompson couldn’t have asked for a better response to the previous night, 2-0 up inside the opening 9 minutes and looking comfortable.
That was until Levi Nelson was sent to the box for elbowing and the Giants’ calmly worked the power play to score their opener through Colin Shields. The Steelers got their own power plays towards the end of the period, but couldn’t convert to leave the score at a dangerous 2-1 at the end of the first period.
Just a few minutes into the second period, Belfast were level when Blair Riley tucked away a rebound after heavy Giants’ pressure and the the atmosphere in the Arena changed. Giants went ahead with another power play goal as James Desmarias squared from the left to David Rutherford who finished well.
At this point in the match, tempers were beginning to flair more regularly with both sides having their own spells of high pressure, but no more goals were added to leave Belfast ahead by one, going into the final period.
The break didn’t help calm tempers as Christoffer Björklund clotheslined a Giants player and made for the penalty box before a referee could even blow his whistle, followed shortly by Belfast’s Riley being told to sit for slashing. Both sides returned to full strength before an almighty goal mouth scramble saw the Giants’ goalkeeper down on the ice again, as Nelson scored to draw the Steelers level. Seconds after the restart it was Nelson causing havoc for the visiting goalkeeper once again.
However, a tangle in front of the goal caused the officials to interrupt, sending Nelson to the box for goaltender interference and Giants’ Michael Quesnele for roughing which began a period of 4 on 4 hockey. Another penalty against the Giants just 30 seconds later lead to two in the box for the Giants and a big chance for the Steelers. Belfast steadied the ship and killed the penalties and Sheffield deflated even more. An unneeded touch in their own zone left a loose puck just yards from the Steelers’ goal. Steve Saviano didn’t need to think twice as he finished past a helpless Ervins Mustukovs to put the Giants ahead once more.
Just two minutes later and Saviano was there again to finish a slick counter attack and surely put the tie to bed with the visitors leading 5-3. A flurry of penalties were awarded and after all but one were killed, Steelers pulled their keeper to have a six on four advantage with minutes remaining. The gamble worked once as Hagos scored to bring Sheffield back within one goal. With just 30 seconds left, Mustukovs was pulled again, but it wasn’t enough as Belfast held their positions to the final horn and win 5-4.
“If it wasn’t so painful, it was comical the way we handed the game to them”, summarised Paul Thompson after the game. Steelers were only able to convert one of their 9 power plays and that went a long way to deciding the result after looking so strong in the first period. According to Thompson, the title race isn’t over yet. These two defeats to a title rival certainly haven’t helped though. Listen to the full post match interview below.