SHEFFIELD STEELERS warmed up for Sunday’s Challenge Cup Final with a subdued performance as they went down 4-1 to Coventry Blaze.
A 4-2 win for leaders Cardiff Devils at Manchester Storm on Friday night left third-placed Steelers trailing by 10 points ahead of their clash against a Blaze team increasingly desperate for wins in order to make the play-offs.
If head coach Paul Thompson had had his way, his players would have found themselves lining up against Coventry three days earlier on Wednesday night but - despite both clubs agreeing to the proposal - a league rule prohibiting the movement of fixtures less than a month before the original fixture date was highlighted by final opponents Cardiff and prevented it happening.
The best Steelers could do was bring forward the face-off time by two hours in order to at least give them time to drive down to Cardiff on Saturday night rather than on the day of the game.
Understandably, the game was a largely subdued affair and one that once the visitors went 2-0 ahead through Brett Robinson just after the halfway mark produced little encouragement for any kind of comeback, Matt Marquardt having given his team the lead in the 12th minute.
Brief hope arrived for the hosts 30 seconds before the end of the second when Robert Dowd halved the deficit, but that was extinguished less than a minute into the third when TJ Syner restored the two-goal lead.
The game was effectively over as a contest when, towards the end of 68-second 5-on-3 powerplay for Coventry, Shawn Boutin made it 4-1.
Back-up Brad Day replaced Ervins Mustukovs shortly after and, in reality, most people in the building – Blaze fans aside – no doubt began to turn their attention to Ice Arena Wales on Sunday afternoon and dreams of celebrating what could be a first-ever Challenge Cup title for the Steelers in the EIHL era.