Steelers left only with play-off hopes

DOWN AND OUT: Nottingham Panthers celebrate their fourth goal at the NIC on Tuesday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.
DOWN AND OUT: Nottingham Panthers celebrate their fourth goal at the NIC on Tuesday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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SHEFFIELD Steelers are left with only the end-of-season play-offs in their hunt for silverware after crashing out of the Challenge Cup.

Trailing 5-3 from the first leg of their semi-final with Nottingham Panthers, the hoped-for comeback from the South Yorkshire club failed to materialise as they went down 6-4.

Any chance acting player-coach Steve Goertzen’s side had of overhauling their arch rivals was ruled out by the halfway stage at the National Ice Centre when the Steelers found themselves 5-0 down.

First-period goals from Matt Ryan and Leigh Salters were followed by strikes from Robert Farmer, Eric Werner and Greg Jacina. The visitors eventually got on the board through replies from Maxime Lacroix and Stefan Meyer before the end of the second.

Tom Norton made it 6-2 three minutes into the third, before Dustin Kohn and Lacroix gave the score a degree of respectability, Steelers crashing out 11-7 on aggregate.

The Steelers return to league action on wednesday night when they welcome Cardiff Devils to the Motorpoint Arena (7.30pm). They will be intent on gaining some swift revenge after being edged out 3-2 in a shoot-out in South Wales on Sunday night, the club’s first game since the sacking of head coach Doug Christiansen after less than one season in charge.

Defending champions Panthers – who have won the competition for the last four years – will now meet newly-crowned Elite League champions Belfast Giants in the two-legged final.

Hull Stingrays face a crucial battle on home ice against Braehead Clan on Wednesday night, the outcome affecting both side’s Gardiner Conference title hopes.

Sylvain Cloutier’s team have fared the better of the two sides in the head-to-head series so far this season, ahead 5-2 in wins going into tonight’s eighth and final meeting.

But Ryan Finnerty’s Braehead have won the last two encounters between the two  ek’s 8-4 win in Glasgow – and currently sit second in the overall league standings.

Whoever wins, though, will leapfrog above current leaders Dundee Stars and go top of the Gardiner Conference group table.

Hull sit second on the same points as Dundee, but having played three games more. Braehead are a further point back with a game in hand on the Stingrays.

A 7-2 defeat at Fife Flyers on Sunday night was the third straight Conference defeat for Hull, although captain Jeff Smith is confident his team can bounce back in positive style.

“We can’t worry about other results, they are out of our control,” said Smith. “We had a closed-door meeting after the Fife game and things were said.

“We just need to have that play-off mentality and hopefully the hockey gods will help us.

“Positive thoughts create positive results. We need to fight, claw and scratch our way to the results we need. They are all Game Sevens now.

“We need to make a much better start against Braehead and get back to playing the system and do all the small things right.

“When we play as a team we are a force and we have got away from that.”