Simon says title race still wide open

SHEFFIELD STEELERS' player-coach Ben Simon refused to rule Belfast Giants out of the Elite League title race after seeing his team secure a 5-4 win over them.

The result moved second-placed Steelers two points clear of the Giants with two games in hand. Leaders Cardiff returned to winning ways following their surprise loss in Dundee last Sunday by seeing off the Braehead Clan 4-0 in South Wales to remain three points clear of Sheffield.

Steelers had to come from a goal down to register their fourth successive win but, despite going 5-2 ahead early in the third, they ran into penalty trouble and were made to sweat by the visitors, particularly when they made it a one-goal game with just under 90 seconds left.

But the home side - outshot 50-21 by the Giants - were able to hang on for both points, with Simon quick to acknowledge that Doug Christiansen's team were far from out of the battle for the regular season title.

"I wouldn't rule any of the top four teams off at this stage," said Simon. "There is still far too much hockey left to play in this season. It's taken us until game 34 or 35 to separate a few teams, but there's still a long way to go.

"I was pleased with the way we came out and played in the second and third, because I felt we were a little flat in the first.

"They came back hard at us in the third and there were some questionable calls, some of which were not penalties I felt but, that being said, the referees do have a tough job to do and I respect that.

"We made it interesting at the end and there were quite a few things that we could have corrected."

Brandon Benedict put the visitors ahead on the powerplay in the 10th minute in what turned out to be the only goal of a first period which saw the Steelers struggle to create any serious offensive threat - mustering only five shots.

The home side came out for the second with slightly more purpose and deservedly levelled at 27.24 after Rob Dowd seized on a poor clearance before quickly feeding Derek Campbell who got ahead of his marker to slot the puck home past Stephen Murphy.

A rejuvenated Rob Globke made it six goals in four games when he fired past Murphy just over four minutes later before the Steelers went into the second break in jubilant mood following two goals in the final minute of the period.

Before announcer David Simms had had chance to announce Jeff Legue as the scorer of the Steelers' third goal at 39.01, defenceman Steve Munn popped up from the resulting face-off to rifle home a rare strike six seconds later to leave the visitors shell-shocked.

But the Giants quickly rallied when, at 40.51, a poor pass around the boards from Globke only found Mike Hoffman whose shot was tipped in by Craig Peacock past a stranded Ervins Mustukovs.

Rod Sarich then restored the home side's three-goal cushion when he ensured the Steelers took full advantage of a rare powerplay opportunity, firing home at 44.13 with a rasping shot past an unsighted Murphy. But Peacock was in the right place at the right time once again just over a minute later, tipping in a shot from Jon Gleed.

Steelers then ran into penalty trouble with first Sarich, then Jason Hewitt and Campbell serving time in the box for minor calls.

Finally, when Munn was handed a two-minute penalty in the 58th minute for interference, the Giants' powerplay - somewhat ineffective after Benedict's opener - finally clicked again when Colin Hemingway was first to react to a rebound off Mustukovs, who had parried Colin Shields' initial shot.

The Steelers went close with empty net attempts from Munn and Legue and were able to see off the potential threat from two late face-offs in their zone to clinch a vital two points.

Steelers head to Scotland on Sunday to face a Dundee Stars side buoyed by Saturday night's 3-2 road win at the Newcastle Vipers, their chief rivals for the eighth and final play-off spot.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCORES

Cardiff Devils 4 Braehead Clan 0

Coventry Blaze 15 Edinburgh Capitals 0

Newcastle Vipers 2 Dundee Stars 3

Nottingham Panthers 3 Hull Stingrays 1

Sheffield Steelers 5 Belfast Giants 4