Nottingham Panthers 2 Sheffield Steelers 4 - Steelers see off Panthers to ensure they remain ahead of the pack

Steelers' players celebrate at Nottingham. Picture: Karl Denham.

Steelers' players celebrate at Nottingham. Picture: Karl Denham.

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AND then there were two.

Sheffield Steelers maintained the defence of their Elite League title, while ending the hopes of their fiercest rivals Nottingham Panthers thanks to a gutsy 4-2 win at the National Ice Centre.

Steelers' Cullen Eddy puts pressure on the Nottingham goal. Picture: Karl Denham.

Steelers' Cullen Eddy puts pressure on the Nottingham goal. Picture: Karl Denham.

Goals from Jeff Legue, Two goals from Mathieu Roy, plus markers from Jeff Legue and Tyler Mosienko ensured the Steelers remained top of the standings with three games remaining.

At the same time, the result at the National Ice Centre meant the end of the line for the Panthers, now eight points adrift of their all-too familiar foes with just four games remaining.

The weekend had started out with five teams still in the race. Mathematically, fourth-placed Belfast Giants can still overhaul Paul Thompson’s team but their 5-2 defeat on the road at second-placed Cardiff Devils - on the opening night for the South Wales club’s long-awaited new rink - makes their task almost impossible, trailing the leaders by seven points with four games left.

The same can be said of Braehead Clan who, although two points closer to the Steelers, have just three games remaining.

Marek Pinc saved 30 of 32 shots against Nottingham on Saturday night. Picture: Karl Denham.

Marek Pinc saved 30 of 32 shots against Nottingham on Saturday night. Picture: Karl Denham.

It means the regular season title challenge is effectively down to a two-horse race between Steelers and Cardiff Devils.

Steelers return home on Sunday night to face season-long nemesis, Coventry Blaze, while Cardiff who will win the regular season title if they win all their remaining games - regardless of what the Steelers do - face a tricky rematch against Belfast at their new venue.

And while Nottingham’s own hopes have now been shot, they remain the team with probably the biggest influence on the outcome of the regular season trophy, having to play both Cardiff and Sheffield on the final weekend.

The deadlock was broken at the NIC when Levi Nelson’s inch-perfect pass to Legue saw him fire the visitors into the lead at 5.58.

That is how it stayed for almost another 20 minutes when Roy got his first of the night, thanks to help from Conny Stromberg and Mosienko at 25.39.

Just over six minutes later, Roy struck again with Marek Pinc keeping out the Panthers from with a number of fine saves at the other end until 36.57 when Juraj Kolnik gave the home side hope.

The tension levels ratcheted up a few more notches just 82 seconds into the third when Kolnik’s second dragged the Panthers back to within one goal but, despite their best efforts, the Steelers held out - Mosienko adding an empty-net finish with 48 seconds remaining to settle any nerves there may have been among the many Steelers fans who had made the long - ultimately worthwhile - trip down the M1.

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