A FIVE-MINUTE goal blitz in the opening period saw Sheffield Steelers cruise to a comfortable 4-1 Elite League victory at Coventry Blaze.
The result took Ryan Finnerty’s third-placed team to within nine points of leaders Belfast Giants with six games still in hand.
The Steelers’ opener at the Skydome Arena came at 5.47 as former Blaze favourite Luke Fulghum – snapped up by Finnerty due to the home side’s recent financial troubles – pounced.
Just under three minutes later Mike Ramsay netted at 8.37 and, with 10.05 on the clock, it was 3-0 as Jonathan Phillips bundled home the puck.
The Steelers added a fourth at 30.45 as Ramsay – on the powerplay – netted his second of the game, while the hosts gave themselves hope with a reply from the stick of Bryan Jurynec.
And while Coventry enjoyed plenty of possession and peppered John Decaro’s goal with 48 shots in the whole games, Paul Thompson’s team could make no further inroads into the three-goal deficit.
The Steelers will now continue their road trip by heading to Scotland for the weekend, facing bottom club Fife Flyers on Saturday night before making the short trip across the Forth to visit Edinburgh Capitals for the first time this season.
Finnerty admitted that, given the recent pressures of the festive season and the criticisms brought about by the defeats to Nottingham Panthers, a weekend on the road in Scotland had come at the right time for his team.
“I think it will be good to get away from the pressures of playing at home,” said Finnerty. “We’ve had so much on recently with regard to the Nottingham games and leading up to those games and then the Coventry one which became a must-win for us.
“So it will be good for the guys to get away and just play some road hockey and grind out wins.
“Sometimes when you’ve got 7,000 eyes on you, you’ve got 7,000 different coaches watching you and telling you what you’re doing wrong. Don’t get me wrong, you want to be involved in those games as well, but I think a weekend away will do us good.”
Steelers’ last visit to Fife in December proved to be more problematic than expected after the Scottish strugglers romped into a 5-1 lead. The Steelers staged a remarkable comeback to win in overtime through a Mark Thomas strike.
Fife have this week been rocked by the departure of two key imports in recent days - Matt Siddall and Mike Hamilton - and should, in theory, pose less of a threat this time around as they look increasingly unlikely to make the end-of-season play-offs in their first Elite League campaign.
The only previous meeting between Steelers and Capitals was in Sheffield back in October when Finnerty’s team win 6-1 against an under-strength opponent missing their first-choice goalie.
Since then, player-coach Richard Hartmann’s team have surprised some people, having lifted themselves to seventh in the standings and looking favourites for one of the last two play-off spots.
“I think what happened last time in Fife was a good thing for us as a team,” added Finnerty.
“We probably didn’t deserve to win that game and we had to sneak the points out in overtime. So I think the guys will go in there with a different mentality this time.
“We’ve only played Edinburgh the one time so far, but we know what they’re capable of so we’re not going to take either of them lightly.
“When Edinburgh came to our place they didn’t have their full line-up and their starting goalie wasn’t in.
“I’m assuming we’re going to face a whole different beast up there.”