SHEFFIELD Steelers’ Elite League title hopes suffered what could prove to be a telling blow when they went down 2-1 at in-form Braehead Clan on Friday night.
The defeat – only their seventh in 42 league games – leaves second-placed Steelers seven points adrift of leaders Belfast Giants with three games in hand and three games still to be played between the top two, the first of which will be at the Motorpoint Arena next Friday.
The clash at Braehead Arena was the first of three games in as many days for Ryan Finnerty’s team ahead of a trip to bottom club Fife Flyers on Saturday and a return to South Yorkshire to take on free-falling Edinburgh Capitals – without a win in 11 games – on Sunday night (5pm).
With defenceman Nick Duff returned to the line-up in an attempt by the visitors to contain the offensive strength of the Clan, it was the Steelers who took the lead towards the end of a tight first period.
With Brock McPherson in the penalty box on a delay of game call, forward Colt King – so impressive in the 5-1 home win over of Fife on Tuesday night – was on target with just 10 seconds of the period remaining, following build-up work by Matt Stephenson and Finnerty.
The home side were level soon after the restart, however, when Adam Walker fired past John DeCaro at 22.56.
It was another early goal – this time at the start of the third – which did for the Steelers, when Clan player-coach Drew Bannister grabbed his 12th goal of the season to extend his team’s winning streak to seven games.
HULL Stingrays player-coach Sylvain Cloutier says his short-benched team must work smart if they are to avoid disappointment this weekend.
Seventh-placed Stingrays, still the most likely of the bottom four clubs to clinch a play-off spot, welcome Belfast to Hull Arena on Saturday night (7pm) before travelling down to South Wales to face the Cardiff Devils on Sunday.
Forwards Ryan Lake (back) and Matty Davies (concussion) are still out, while a late decision will be made on defenceman Martin Ondrej (groin) shortly before the face-off against Belfast. Top goalscorer Jereme Tendler is still suspended following a positive drugs test.
“Because we’re low on numbers, we’ve got to play smart and conserve our energy in both games - they are both quality teams,” said Cloutier. “We’ve got to make sure we are ready to take our chances when they come, which they will do.
“Cardiff have also been playing short too so we’ve got to try and make sure we pace ourselves as best we can.”
Hull’s last visit to Cardiff at the end of January saw them hammered 8-5, with only four third-period goals giving the scoreline some respectability. An earlier visit this season brought Cloutier his first-ever victory in South Wales, when penalty shot goals from Dominic Osman and Frantisek Bakrlik saw them to a memorable 3-2 shoot-out win.
“We played well against them at home last week and I felt we deserved to take something from that game,” added Cloutier, whose team are yet to take any points off Belfast this season, the closest being a 4-3 home defeat back in October. Stingrays went down 6-1 in Belfast last weekend, with four of the Giants’ goals coming in the last 15 minutes as the depleted visitors tired.
“Belfast are a top side obviously and they’ve got three strong lines which just keep coming and coming at you.
“We’re hoping to get a big crowd in at home so hopefully they can be like an extra man for us. The other games at our place against the Giants have both been close so you never know.”
SHEFFIELD Steeldogs will get an early indication of what is required to overcome their opponents in the EPL Cup final when they take on fellow finalists Guildford Flames on Saturday night.
Andre Payette’s team had already qualified over two legs on a 1-0 aggregate triumph against Milton Keynes Lightning, but were forced to wait until Wednesday night to discover who their opponents would be.
And it was Guildford who beat Manchester Phoenix 5-4 on aggregate to deny supporters the chance of a ‘Roses’ clash in the final.
Fourth-placed Steeldogs, who won 3-2 in overtime last Sunday at Bracknell Bees, will be at home on Sunday night as they take on second-placed Slough Jets (5.30pm), who are two points ahead of them having played one game more.