YOU could argue that the one saving grace for Sheffield Steelers is that they only have to make one more trip to South Wales during the current campaign - at least in the league.
The reason for searching for such a silver lining is due to the fact Paul Thompson’s team were yet again foiled by Elite League title rivals Cardiff Devils - the fifth time in as many meetings this season.
Three of those defeats have been in Cardiff - the latest on Saturday night with the scoreline, somewhat oddly, a repeat of the two 3-2 losses previously suffered by the defending regular season champions, one coming only six days earlier.
And while one head-to-head series in a season does not necessarily determine the outcome of a league title - there are 44 other fixtures to take into consideration after all - the Steelers need to get something out of the three remaining encounters they have scheduled against the Devils, who went 12 points clear of their biggest rivals.
The Steelers, who slipped to third in the standings behind Belfast Giants, do have five games in hand on Cardiff and with those three head-to-head meetings also still to come there is clearly still plenty to play for, starting later this week when the South Yorkshire club face Coventry Blaze in a pre-Christmas double header ahead of the traditional festive back-to-back fixtures against Nottingham Panthers.
As was the case the previous week - when the Steelers seemingly had a good goal ruled out - there were a number of talking points coming out of Ice Arena Wales on Saturday.
One was the fluke goal which saw Cardiff draw level midway through the second period when Ben O’Connor’s attempted pass cannoned off the back of fellow D-man Davey Phillips’s leg and into the goal past Ervins Mustukovs.
Another standout moment was the five-plus-game misconduct penalty handed out to Steelers’ defenceman Zack Fitzgerald for a hit that was deemed as an illegal check to the head - not a thought shared by Thompson.
With Fitzgerald ejected in the 46th minute, the Steelers went frustratingly close to killing off the subsequent penalty until Joey Martin finally made the man advantage count at 50.08.
Impressively, the Steelers rallied and were level just over two minutes later when Jace Coyle skated in unnoticed to fire past Ben Bowns from Guillaume Desbiens’ neat feed.
But a swift third goal for Cardiff - Josh Batch firing home a rebound from Mustukovs just 24 seconds later - proved too much for Steelers to come back from, despite Sheffield-born netminder Bowns being called upon to deny his hometown team on a number of occasions.
Earlier, after a goalless first period, the Steelers had taken the lead through a slick move which saw John Armstrong turn and feed Levi Nelson down the middle, from where he back-handed through Bowns’s legs from eight yards at 21.59.
Eight minutes later was when Cardiff got their huge slice of luck courtesy of Phillips’s skate, setting up what was to prove another eventful third period.
Jesse Schultz is a doubt for Wednesday’s home clash against Coventry Blaze after missing the scond half of Sunday night’s game in Cardiff.
“As we stand I don’t know if he is in or out,” said Thompson. “We have great medical staff and I’m leaving it with them to look after Jesse and let me know closer to the game.”
Yorkshire Post - Sport
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