WITH just eight games remaining and a seven-point gap now existing between themselves and leaders Nottingham Panthers, only the most optimistic Sheffield Steelers fan would believe their team likely to capture a fourth Elite League championship.
After riding a wave of optimism going into their three-game road trip brought about by a seven-game winning streak, the Steelers’ weekend went from bad to worse when they followed up Friday night’s 4-2 loss in Nottingham with a 3-1 defeat at Belfast Giants on Saturday.
Nottingham and Belfast play each other on March 15 & 16 at the Odyssey Arena, with the title likely to be determined over the course of that two days - if Corey Neilson’s haven’t already sealed it before then,
Mathematically, the Steelers are still in the hunt, but the likelihood is that there hopes for silverware now lie with the Challenge Cup and the end-of-season play-offs.
In Belfast, they outshot the home side but still came off second best, going behind to a Mark Garside effort at 9.32.
With only 43 seconds of the second period played the Giants then doubled their lead with a strike from Adam Keefe.
The Giants added a third at 49.17 through Darryl Lloyd. The Steelers grabbed a late consolation on the powerplay through Tylor Michel at 58.01.
It was also a disappointing night for Hull Stingrays, their hopes of making the post-season suffering a further blow with a 4-2 loss at the hands of hosts Fife Flyers - their ninth straight loss on the road.
It adds further significance - were any possible - to Sunday night’s home game against the Braehead Clan for Sylvain Cloutier’s side.
The hosts opened the scoring just after 10 minutes through Bobby Chaumont’s powerplay strike, although a determined Hull hauled themselves level through defenceman Shane Lovedahl - also on the powerplay - at 17.37.
Another powerplay goal - with Hull captain Kurtis Dulle in the box on a tripping call - put Fife ahead again through Kris Hogg at 22.44 but, again, Hull restored parity through the reliable Jereme Tendler at 38.57.
The next goal was always going to prove crucial and it went the way of the home team, Hogg grabbing a second of the night at 41.28. It became 4-2 at 47.20 through Zac Carriveau but, this time, Hull couldn’t pull it back.
The result leaves Hull six points adrift of the play-off places in the overall league standings with nine games remaining. The loss in Fife also hit their Gardiner Conference title bid, leaving them three points off the top with just five games remaining.
“I thought we played a really good game and deserved more,” said Cloutier. “They buried their chances, we didn’t. It was disappointing not to take anything from the game.”
It was a better night in the English Premier League for Yorkshire ice hockey when the Sheffield Steeldogs beat title hopefuls Basingstoke Bison 3-0.
Edgars Bebris gave the visitors a seventh-minute lead, before Lubomir Korhon doubled the Dogs’ lead at 18.37.
Lloyd Gibson’s 33rd-minute strike sealed an impressive win for Andre Payette’s team, but they remain seven points adrift of the play-off places with only eight games remaining.