A STUNNING first period proved crucial to Sheffield Steelers as they hung on for a 6-4 Elite League victory at Coventry Blaze on Sunday night.
Doug Christiansen’s side blitzed their hosts to go in 5-0 ahead at the end of the first period at the Skydome Arena.
Despite a stirring fightback from Coventry, the Steelers prevailed to give themselves a four-point weekend after Saturday’s 5-2 victory on home ice against Nottingham Panthers.
It will give the South Yorkshire club hope ahead of a make-or-break 48 hours in Northern Ireland next weekend when they face a double-header against runaway leaders Belfast Giants.
The Giants are currently 17 points ahead of Steelers, who have three games in hand – one of which is at home against bottom club Edinburgh Capitals on Wednesday.
Most people understandably will have written off Steelers’ outside title hopes, but a combination of two wins at the Odyssey Arena and the ability to win all of those games in hand could, just might, produce a crack in the Giants’ armour.
Maxime Lacroix (2), Rob Sirianni, Jason Hewitt and Drew Fata all scored in the first 20 minutes in Coventry, with Steve Goertzen making it 6-0 early in the second.
The hosts halved the deficit by the end of the second and made it a two-goal game through a short-handed effort from former Steelers forward Ashley Tait at 48.58. But that was as close as they got as the Steelers moved up to second in the standings, albeit with that seemingly insurmountable gap between them and Belfast.
Against the Panthers, Jonathan Phillips 16th-minute strike cancelled out Leigh Salters fourth-minute opener before second period goals from Steven Goertzen (2) and Robert Dowd put the home side in control.
Salter’s second powerplay effort of the night at 36.43 gave Panthers some hope, but Jeff Legue’s late strike at 58.35 sealed a deserved win for the Steelers.
“If somebody had told me before the weekend that we would get four points and two regulation wins I would have taken it,” said Steelers’ head coach Christiansen.
“Right now we’re scoring goals and in the last three games we’ve had six, five and six so we’ve got some confidence in that regard.
“But we just need to make sure that we do tighten up when we do get those kinds of leads.”
To listen to Doug Christiansen talk after the Coventry game click HERE
Nottingham found themselves in trouble again on Sunday night when they were 4-2 down at home to Hull Stingrays – beaten 6-1 at home by Coventry 24 hours earlier.
First-period goals from Jereme Tendler and Carl Lauzon (2) gave Hull a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes and when Guillaume Doucet scored early in the second with his 37th strike of the season an upset was on the cards.
But the Panthers rallied and score four unanswered goals.
On Saturday, Hull were 4-0 down to the Blaze before player-coach Sylvain Cloutier replied at 38.36. Two further goals from Adam Henrich in the third period, however, ended the contest.
“Coventry was one of those games where nothing went in for us and everything went in for them,” said Cloutier.
“But we responded really well against Nottingham. At 4-2 up we have to find a way to win, we had to keep it simple but we got away from that a bit.
“However, we had to finish the game with two lines and I am proud of the effort the guys put in.
“We gave them a few powerplay chances and they took them. They have a good powerplay and they move the puck extremely well.
“Bownsy (netminder Ben Bowns) played a strong game and he gave us a chance to win – we let him down by not winning the game. But on another night we might have got something from that game.”
Sunday: Nottingham Panthers 6 Hull Stingrays 4, Coventry Blaze 4 Sheffield Steelers 6, Edinburgh Capitals 1 Cardiff Devils 2
Saturday: Braehead Clan 1 Belfast Giants 2 (OT), Dundee Stars 4 Edinburgh Capitals 3, Fife Flyers 3 Cardiff Devils 4 (OT), Hull Stingrays 1 Coventry Blaze 6, Sheffield Steelers 5 Nottingham Panthers 2