SHEFFIELD STEELERS earned themselves a late lifeline in their bid for an Elite League double after recovering from 5-0 down in the first leg of their play-off quarter-final at Coventry Blaze.
A late strike by Guillaume Desbiens saw the game at the SkyDome Arena finish in a 5-3 defeat for Paul Thompson’s side ahead of tonight’s second leg at Sheffield Arena.
It leaves the tie finely poised with recently-crowned Elite League champions hoping home advantage will pay dividends in overturning the two-goal deficit.
Coventry have had the Steelers’ number for most of the season - winning six of the eight league meetings between the two sides - and it happened again on Saturday night when the hosts raced into a 5-0 lead before the halfway mark.
First period goals from Brett Robinson and Cale Tanaka gave the hosts control but it was a three-goal blitz in a five-minute, second-period spell that did the real damage.
Chris Bruton’s powerplay strike at 24.35 made it 3-0 with further strikes coming from Carl Lauzon and Kevin Noble.
Crucially, Freddie Vestberg got the Steelers on the board in the 33rd minute and when Robert Dowd made it 5-2 44.19 the tide had turned.
The Steelers outshot their hosts 23-6 in the third period and that pressure eventually told when Desbiens’s powerplay strike at 58.29 ensured there was still all to play for in Sunday’s return leg.
Desbiens paid the price for his efforts, though, needing to be helped from the ice by the physio after being caught by a blow from Blaze’s Boris Valabik shortly after scoring what could prove to be such a crucial goal. He was taken to hospital to be checked for a suspected broken jaw.
“That was a frustrating night,” said Steelers head coach Thompson. “We were unrecognisable in the first 30 minutes - that wasn’t the Steelers of the past month.
“In the second period break we asked the guys for 20 shots with a target of reducing the deficit to 2 goals and we managed that. We got back to playing our game.
“We need another three periods tomorrow like the third period tonight.
“It’s definitely game on now though and I give the boys credit for having the character not to give in and fight their way back.”