Belfast Giants proving too hot for Sheffield Steelers

STOP THERE: Jonathan Phillips gets up close and personal with Belfast Giants' Kevin Raine in Sunday night's 3-2 defeat for the hosts at Sheffield Arena. Picture: Dean Woolley.
STOP THERE: Jonathan Phillips gets up close and personal with Belfast Giants' Kevin Raine in Sunday night's 3-2 defeat for the hosts at Sheffield Arena. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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FOR Cardiff Devils, read Belfast Giants.

Sheffield Steelers seem to have landed themselves with another particularly troublesome opponent.

Before the turn of the year last season, the Steelers played five Elite League games against Cardiff, losing every time.

Over the course of the season, the two teams would meet a total of 12 times in league, Challenge Cup and play-offs, the Steelers eventually winning four of them – most memorably, of course, when Levi Nelson’s wonder strike saw them win the play-off final in double overtime at the National Ice Centre.

This time around it seems the Steelers’ nemesis is going to be Belfast who, after last night’s 3-2 win at Sheffield Arena, have now won all four meetings between the two sides.

There are still four more Erhardt Conference meetings to come between the two clubs, but Steelers’ problems extend beyond their head-to-head series against Adam Keefe’s side.

In by far the toughest of the league’s three conferences, Paul Thompson’s team find themselves alongside Belfast, Cardiff and Nottingham Panthers – often regarded as the four front-runners for title honours. In the nine conference games they have played so far, the Steelers have won only one.

But, despite last night’s defeat, the Steelers still find themselves in the mix in the overall standings, lying four points behind new leaders Belfast with a game in hand.

In between are Cardiff and Nottingham, both with games in hand on their two rivals, and the Steelers know they can ill-afford to drop too many more points against their fellow conference teams between now and the end of March.

Last night was another typically tight affair, Belfast getting on their way to a third win of the season in Sheffield through a Colin Shields goal at 10.40.

Steelers' Colton Fretter battles with Belfast Giants' Jeff Mason.

Steelers' Colton Fretter battles with Belfast Giants' Jeff Mason.

Colton Fretter levelled five minutes later, but the hosts found themselves chasing the game again after Brendan Connolly’s strike at 34.00, the gap widening further inside the last 10 minutes through Darcy Murphy’s effort.

Robert Dowd made it a one-goal game again at 54.38, but that was as close as the Steelers could get on the night.