AFTER the understandable dismay at a third straight home defeat to Cardiff Devils on Friday, Sheffield Steelers needed an urgent pick-me-up 48 hours later when Belfast Giants visited South Yorkshire.
And against a team with similar title expectation levels to themselves and Cardiff, Paul Thompson’s team gave themselves the timely boost so badly required, the Giants beaten by a 5-1 scoreline for the second time at Sheffield Arena this season.
A typically tight opening period between the two found them separated after 20 minutes by just the single goal, Mathieu Roy making the most of the powerplay brought about by a holding call on Chris Higgins to beat Stephen Murphy at 12.00.
The second period saw some much-needed distance put between the two, although a second goal didn’t appear until after the halfway point when Levi Nelson struck with a piledriver over Murphy’s left shoulder after skating in from the right-wing, with Jesse Schultz adding a second powerplay marker of the night at 36.56, the puck somehow squeezing through the Giants goaltender’s grasp.
Play was halted soon after, however, when Belfast’s David Rutherford had to be stretchered off following a clash with Guillaume Desbiens, the Giants forward falling awkwardly to the ice. It followed a hit to Yared Hagos by Rutherford behind the Steelers’ goal moments earlier.
Belfast had plenty of chances and actually outshot their hosts on the night, but any hope of a comeback was gone midway through the third when Schultz combined with Roy and John Armstrong to fire through Murphy’s legs to make it 4-0 at 49.47.
Ben O’Connor added a fifth in the 58th minute from the left wing but - as on the previous weekend against Nottingham Panthers - Latvian goaltender Ervins Mustukovs when former Steelers’ forward Colin Shields beat him at 57.24.
Having dropped to fourth place in the overall standings on Saturday night after wins for Belfast and Fife Flyers, Steelers’ bounce-back win was enough to return them to second, still seven points behind Cardiff but with four games in hand.
Head coach Thompson couldn’t hide his delight afterwards.
“It was a great way for us to bounce back,” said Thompson. “It was a pleasing win, especially after Friday and we knew how important it was for us to win and Belfast had been on one hell of a role.
“I felt we played better on Friday against Cardiff, but we just had seven or eight minutes where we handed the game over.
“Coaching is a process and playing is a process and we know there are still parts of our game that we know can improve. There are a lot oexperts out there saying what’s wrong and this, that and the other but we’re winning and we still know the areas where we’ve got to get better.”
Thompson added that while he wished Belfast’s Rutherford a sppedy recovery after being stretchered off the ice, he was “livid” at the initial hit on Yareg Hagos which led to a clash between the Giants forward and Steelers’ Desbiens.
Belfast later tweeted that Rutherford had gone for a scan and been cleared by doctors, enabling him to rejoin his team-mates on the trip back to Northern Ireland on Sunday night.
It was a pleasing win, especially after Friday and we knew how important it was for us to win.Paul Thompson, Sheffield Steelers’ head coach
Another crunch meeting with Cardiff comes in South Wales next Sunday, although before then Thompson’s players must negotiate a path past Edinburgh Capitals in order to reach the Challenge Cup semi-finals.
The quarter-final first leg between the two comes on Wednesday night in Scotland, before they play the deciding leg at Ice Sheffield next Saturday.