THe odds may be stacked heavily against them, but Sheffield Steelers are not prepared to throw in the towel in the Elite League title race just yet.
Doug Christiansen’s side - who reportedly on Friday had a bid for Hull’s Jereme Tendler rejected - head over to Northern Ireland this weekend to face runaway leaders Belfast Giants in a double header at the Odyssey Arena.
The Giants are 15 points ahead of second-placed Steelers, who made it four wins from as many games with Wednesday night’s 2-0 home triumph over Edinburgh Capitals.
Since the Boxing Day win over Nottingham Panthers, the Steelers have only lost once in regulation – at home to the Giants nearly two weeks ago, their fourth defeat to Paul Adey’s team in the five meetings between the two so far this season.
But the Steelers are enjoying their most consistent run of form so far this season and, while most people believe the title race is all but over, British forward Jonathan Phillips believes there some hope remains.
“We’re definitely not throwing in the towel,” said Phillips. “We’re going to take it just one game at a time - we do need four points this weekend, that’s for sure.
“So, we deal with Saturday first and then worry about Sunday afterwards. We need to make sure we play the way that we know we can and play the way we did in the third period against them at our place recently and, hopefully, come away with the two points.
“We’re definitely going to go in there with confidence. We were a little inconsistent at the beginning of the season and it has put us behind the eight ball little bit, but we’ve kind of found our rhythm and we just need to keep on that track.
“But it does need to be two regulation wins - we can’t afford for them to pick up any points.”
Watch Jonathan Phillips preview the Steelers’ weekend in Belfast by clicking the PLAY button at the top of this page
Phillips said Belfast reminded him of Steelers’ teams from previous seasons, including two championship-winning sides he himself was part of in recent years.
“They’ve seen out games every time they’ve needed too,” added Phillips. “There have been games where they haven’t played particularly great, but they’ve still managed to get the wins.
“And that’s what you need to do in this league - that’s what we’ve done in the past when we’ve won championships.”
Hull Stingrays briefly return to Gardiner Conference action on Saturday when they host Fife Flyers (6.30pm).
Sylvain Cloutier’s team still top the Conference standings, although their advantage was cut to two points by second-placed Dundee Stars last weekend after a 4-3 win at home to Edinburgh.
The Stars have four games in hand on Hull and face a double-header against Braehead Clan, another team with a realistic chance of landing the conference title.
With Fife out of the Gardiner Conference title race – as well as struggling to claim one of the top eight play-off places in the overall league standings – Hull will be expected to return to winning ways after drawing a blank last weekend with defeats to Coventry Blaze and Nottingham Panthers.
A trip to South Wales could also bring reward for Clotier’s players when they visit Cardiff Devils on Sunday night,
Their one previous visit in the league saw them return home on the back of a 5-3 success, while the Challenge Cup tie between the two sides saw hosts Cardiff edge an 11-goal thriller.
On Friday, the Stingrays rebuffed an approach for their leading goalscorer Tendler from Yorkshire rivals the Steelers.
A Stingrays statement read: “The player remains an integral part of the Stingrays team as we continue our quest for the Gardiner Conference title.”