WITH just over a third of the season still remaining ahead of the weekend, it was always going to be far too early to rule Sheffield Steelers out of the Elite League title race following a run of indifferent form.
And so it proved as they followed up a dramatic last-gasp 2-1 win over Coventry Blaze on Saturday night with a 6-0 thumping on the road of title rivals Cardiff Devils 24 hours later.
It was Sunday night’s stunning victory at a notoriously difficult rink to visit that will have made the Steelers’ title rivals sit up and take notice.
The four-point weekend, combined with generally favourable results elsewhere, has thrown fourth-placed Steelers right back into the mix, now only five points behind leaders Braehead Clan and just a single point adrift of Belfast Giants and Nottingham Panthers, the teams in between.
They also – crucially – have games in hand on both Braehead and Belfast.
The rout was started in South Wales by a first goal in Steelers’ colours for Tomas Petruska, the Slovakian forward who arrived only hours before his debut against Coventry the day before.
His ninth-minute strike was the only goal of the first period against Cardiff and it was not until just after the halfway mark that Steelers doubled their lead, Tyler Mosienko’s 34th-minute goal coming two minutes after Mike Forney’s 29th of the season.
Forney scored a second on the night, shorthanded at 49.28, the first of three goals in less than four minutes that left the hosts reeling. Mosienko’s second came at 50.35, with Jeff Legue rounding things off at 53.20.
Boasting two debutants in the shape of goaltender Josh Unice and Petruska – Steelers found themselves behind after just two minutes the previous night at home to Coventry.
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, particularly 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 clearly feeling he was impeded, but all around him his team-mates sank to the ice on their knees fully aware the game was up.
Sunday, Elite League: Cardiff Devils 0 Sheffield Steelers 6, Coventry Blaze 2 Dundee Stars 1, Edinburgh Capitals 4 Hull Stingrays 3, Fife Flyers 5 Belfast Giants 4 (SO), Nottingham Panthers 6 Braehead Clan 3.
Saturday, 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.