SHEFFIELD Steelers head into a weekend they know to be vital for their hopes of silverware on two fronts.
Saturday night sees Elite League leaders Belfast Giants arrive at the Motorpoint Arena, with third-placed Steelers desperate to reduce the 15-point gap between the two teams.
Just under 24 hours later, the South Yorkshire club will be in Scotland hoping to confirm their place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals, having beaten Dundee Stars 4-0 in the first leg of their quarter-final on Wednesday night.
Catching Paul Adey’s team over the final 20 or so games will be a tall order for any team, even if Steelers themselves have two games in hand.
And while Steelers head coach Doug Christiansen concedes his former team have had an outstanding season so far, he believes there are still many twists and turns ahead in the race for the overall Elite League title.
To listen to Doug Christiansen preview the weekend’s action click HERE
Belfast arrive in South Yorkshire having enjoyed the better of the eight-match series so far between the two, winning three of the four games and with a double header at the Odyssey Arena still to come next month.
They were also the last team to win Sheffield, beating the Steelers 4-2 on November 10 since when Christiansen’s team have won nine straight on home ice.
“There’s no doubt Belfast have put themselves in a great position,” said Christiansen, who switched from Belfast to Sheffield last April. “But there is still a lot of hockey to be played.
“It’s crucial (that we’re at home on Saturday) because our fans have been great.
“They are loud, they’re in the game, they are passionate and they are knowledgeable fans – they’re cheering for penalty kills, they’re cheering for blocked shots and cheering for when guys get in on the forecheck, not just for goals and fights.”
Christiansen’s players enjoy a big cushion as they head to Tayside on Sunday, although they did come off second-best on their only previous visit there this season in September when losing to the Stars 4-3.
Christiansen insisted there would be no time to dwell on Saturday’s result - even if it was one that put a big dent in their title ambitions.
“We’ve got a quarter-final on Sunday,” he added. “Regardless of the result against Belfast, all we will be doing is focusing our attention on the next game.
“We know that our goal is to try and win championships and we have to shift gears immediately for each game, no matter what happens on Saturday night.”