THE weekend may have ended in disappointment for Sheffield Steelers in Scotland, but there were still reasons to be cheerful on the long coach trip home after a gruelling three games in as many days.
Losing 4-3 after a shoot-out to an out-of-sorts Edinburgh Capitals may not look too impressive on paper, but it ensured they had taken five points from a possible six, despite having two of their most influential players missing for the entire 72 hours.
With Elite League leaders Cardiff Devils only taking one point from the weekend, it means the Steelers are now four points behind with two games in hand, albeit having dropped to third in the table after Belfast Giants’ second win over Coventry in as many nights was enough to see them go second.
It is not clear when key forwards Mathieu Roy and Colton Fretter will return to the Sheffield line-up so, in the meantime, head coach Paul Thompson is expected to announce a new signing – possibly as early as tomorrow – to help spread the extra workload.
With less than five minutes remaining at Murrayfield last night, the Steelers were on their way to recording a perfect six-point haul.
But a third powerplay goal of the night from the hosts was enough to take the game into overtime and then a penalty shoot-out, where – in sudden death – Ned Lukacevic scored the only goal from the eight shots taken.
Against the run of play, the Capitals had earlier gone into a 2-0 lead through David Rutherford (13.37) and Lukacevic (16.25).
The next goal to be scored was also on the powerplay but, fortunately for the visitors, it was at the other end, with defenceman Jace Coyle firing through traffic with just 16 seconds left in the period.
Guilliaume Desbiens scored the only goal of the middle period to tie the game 2-2 before Ben O’Connor struck to put his team in front at 48.12.
But the Steelers paid dearly when running into penalty trouble in the 56th minute, allowing Rutherford to grab his second of the night to set up Lukacevic to perform his shoot-out heroics and end a dismal nine-game losing streak for the Capitals. The result was enough to lift Edinburgh off bottom spot and above Manchester Storm, capping a miserable weekend for Omar Pacha’s team, who had lost twice to the Steelers over the previous 48 hours.
Steelers had staged a stunning comeback at Manchester’s Altrincham Ice Arena on Friday, coming from 4-1 down after two periods to take the extra point on offer in overtime through Levi Nelson’s deflected winner.
On Saturday, they completed back-to-back victories over their Roses rivals with a more convincing 5-2 triumph.
In a fast-flowing first period, a crowd of 5,790 at Sheffield Arena watched an under-strength Manchester take an early lead through Matt Paton at 2.16.
Steelers were soon back on level terms at 7.26 through Nelson and that is how it stayed until late in the second when defenceman Russ Moyer scored for the second night running.
Just over seven minutes into the third, it was effectively game over after Coyle grabbed his fifth and sixth of the season to make it 4-1.
With Nelson off on a slashing call, Manchester pulled goalie Kalemba and it paid dividends when Grant Toulman made it 4-2 at 56.50, offering the visitors faint hope they might snatch a point.
But those aspirations were extinguished when, with Kalemba pulled again after Steelers’ Luke Ferrara was sent to the box for interference, the puck broke free to Tyler Mosienko, who fired into the empty net at 57.36.
In the English Premier League, bottom club Hull Pirates enjoyed their best weekend yet, dragging themselves off the bottom of the table for the first time this season with a maximum four-point haul.
They followed up a 6-3 home win on Saturday against fellow strugglers Bracknell Bees with a 5-4 win at Manchester Phoenix.
It puts them two points ahead of Bracknell and just seven behind Manchester – reigniting their hopes of making the play-offs in their debut EPL season.
Against Bracknell, Dominic Osman’s side came from behind three times before scoring four unanswered goals in the third period.
Osman himself scored twice, with further strikes coming from Lee Bonner, Nathan Salem Tommi Laine and Sam Towner.
Against Phoenix, Laine (2), Warren Tait, Salem and Bonner got on the scoresheet.
It proved to be a disappointing weekend for Sheffield Steeldogs, who followed up a 3-0 loss on the road at Swindon Wildcats with a 3-2 defeat at home to Milton Keynes Lightning.
All Swindon’s goals came in the opening 12 minutes on Saturday, although things initially looked a lot healthier for Sheffield on home ice 24 hours later when they found themselves 2-0 ahead through first-period strikes from player-coach Greg Wood and Lubomir Korhon.
But third-placed Lightning struck back, initially late in the second period through Bobby Chamberlain, before Frantisek Bakrlik’s third-period double sealed both points.