SHEFFIELD STEELERS moved within one point of Elite League leaders Cardiff Devils with a 6-1 win over arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers.
Steelers made the perfect start at the Motorpoint Arena when Robert Dowd's shot bobbled over the line after just 27 seconds.
Panthers levelled with a short-handed goal through Rob Bellamy on 13 minutes but after that it was all Sheffield.
Player-coach Ben Simon scored 87 seconds into the second session when he wrapped a shot around the post.
And he added his second with a shorthanded strike at 32.48 when he pounced on a loose puck dropped by Panthers' netminder Craig Kowalski which required use of TV replays by the match officials before it was finally determined to be a goal.
After a fine shot by Ashley Tait made it 4-1 at 48.42, Kowalski was replaced by former Steelers' reserve netminder Dan Green.
But things only got worse for the visitors when Joey Talbot pounced for the first of his two powerplay goals at 51.39 and then again at 57.19, complet8ing a victory which has allbut killed off any faint hope the Panthers still retained of overhauling any of their rivals for the regular season league title.
The Steelers will hope to turn up the pressure further on Cardiff when they welcome Coventry Blaze to Sheffield on Saturday night (7.00), before a return match at the Skydome Arena on Sunday.
Cardiff - beaten 5-4 by Coventry last weekend - are only in action on Saturday night this weekend, travelling to Belfast to take on Doug Christiansen's Giants in a match that doubles up as a league cna Challenge Cup semi-final first leg.
The top two - Belfast are four points adrift of the Steelers having played a game more - meet each other on what should prove to be a title-deciding weekend on February 19 and 20.
Steelers travel to South Wales on the Saturday before welcoming Gerad Adams's team to the Motorpoint Arena the following night.
Hull Stingrays' player-coach Sylvain Cloutier has urged his players not to take bottom club Edinburgh Capitals lightly ahead of this weekend's double header against the Scottish strugglers.
Hull – who thrashed Edinburgh 10-2 on home ice last month – will hope to snap a five-game losing streak when they travel to Murrayfield tonight before welcoming the Capitals back to East Yorkshire tomorrow (6.00).
Scott Neil's side have been beset by a catalogue of problems since early December, losing almost all of their imports and suffering 15 straight defeats to leave their play-off hopes in tatters.
But they have recently brought in a handful of new faces, leading Cloutier to warn his players against complacency.
"They are going to be a different team to the one we played recently," said Cloutier.
"We need the points now and to get four this weekend will be huge for us."