TALK about perfect timing.
Just when the majority of the Motorpoint Arena crowd had resigned themselves to five minutes of overtime between Sheffield Steelers and Coventry Blaze, up popped Jeff Legue to poke the puck home with just three seconds remaining, delivering to the hosts a deserved victory.
More importantly, it kept their Elite League title hopes alive, leaving them in fifth place and still seven points behind leaders Braehead Clan, who thrashed Edinburgh Capitals 7-3.
It was far from a classic game between two sides struggling to find consistency, the bigger concern being for a Coventry side who are a far cry from the all-conquering teams of 2004-5 and 2006-2008 and in a fierce battle just to make the end-of-season play-offs.
Steelers edged it thanks to their dominance throughout, although clear-cut chances seemed hard to come by with Blaze goaltender Brian Stewart looking solid throughout.
In fact the hosts – boasting two debutants in the shape of goaltender Josh Unice and Slovakian forward Tomas Petruska – found themselves behind after just two minutes.
Jereme Tendler – who has come nowhere near to replicating the free-scoring performances he consistently produced for Hull Stingrays over four years before switching to Coventry last summer – pounced at 2.15 to fire past a surprised Unice, following some good work by former Steelers’ captain Steven Goertzen.
It was the involvement of Goertzen that proved pivotal to Steelers’ equaliser when it came in the 17th minute. The 30-year-old was left furious after being sent to the penalty box on an interference call and his frustration was intensified when Cullen Eddy’s deflected shot found its way past a blinded Stewart.
A goalless second period followed during which both sides struggling to produce the necessary quality finish to make the crucial breakthrough, partocularly the Steelers, who out-shot the visitors by 15-5.
It was the same story in the third period with Steelers producing 14 shots on goal and Coventry just two. But, as overtime beckoned, a face-off in the Coventry end saw the puck eventually squirm under Stewart’s sprawling body to leave Legue free to prod the puck into an empty net. A furious Stewart argued with the officials after he felt he was impeded, but all around him his team-mates sank to their knees on the ice fully aware the game was up.
“It should be a turning point for us,” said Steelers’ head coach Gerad Adams afterwards.
“I thought we played extremely well and we dominated the hockey game. We didn’t really feel in any danger at any point.
“We had numerous chances to score and sometimes, when you’re in a bit of a rut, that is what happens and so you have to try and get what some would call an ugly win and we were able to stick with it and got our reward with just three seconds to go and we fully deserved that.”
Hull Stingrays had to settle for a point after Cardiff Devils found an overtime winner to win 3-2 at Hull Arena.
The fact they were winning 2-1 after the first period will make the result even harder to stomach for the hosts, although a point against the league’s in-form team is still a decent return.
Brent Walton put Cardiff ahead at 3.05 before Jordan Knox levelled five minutes later with his third goal for Stingrays since arriving in early December.
Just under two minutes later, Sam Towner doubled his goal tally for the season to put his side ahead.
That is how it stayed until 34.28 when Jesse Mychan levelled for the title hopefuls.
A golless third period brought overtime and it was the visitors who sealed the extra point when Walton grabbed his second of the night at 62.19.
Afterwards, Hull player-coach Omar Pacha said: “We are disappointed we did not get the extra point but it was a point against a good Cardiff team.
“If we can get the win in what is a big game in Edinburgh tomorrow and have a three-point weekend I can live with that.”
SATURDAY NIGHT RESULTS
Elite League: Belfast Giants 5 Fife Flyers 2, Braehead Clan 7 Edinburgh Capitals 3, Hull Stingrays 2 Cardiff Devils 3 (OT), Sheffield Steelers 2 Coventry Blaze 1.