HAVING beaten title contenders Belfast Giants in convincing fashion the night before, Sheffield Steelers yesterday no doubt made their way down to South Wales to face reigning Elite League champions Cardiff Devils in buoyant mood.
But the return journey home on Sunday night will have been another sombre three or so hours on the team coach for Tom Barrasso and his players, their latest encounter with the Devils having produced an all-too familiar tale.
A 6-0 defeat means the Steelers have had six goals or more put past them on each visit to the Viola Arena during 2018-19, a 7-1 thrashing in October being followed by last month’s 7-3 reverse.
It means six straight defeats for the Steelers against Andrew Lord’s side since they stepped out to face each other in last April’s playoff final. With just six games remaining, the Steelers remain locked in a fierce battle simply to make this season’s playoffs, let alone plan any kind of trip to Nottingham as in the past two years, with Barrasso admitting afterwards his players would need to improve sharply to stand any chance of confirming a spot in the post-season.
"We were totally outplayed by a superior team," said Barrasso before boarding the team coach. "They generated scoring chances at will in the first period. It was impressive to watch and we really had no answer for their game."
The first 20 minutes saw the Steelers manage to hold their own in Cardiff. Despite being outshot 15-6, they went into the first break just 1-0 adrift after Matthew Myers’s back-handed past Jackson Whistle in the 14th minute.
But the conceding of four goals within12 second-period minutes meant the Steelers could forget about picking up an overdue win against their hosts.
Layne Ulmer doubled the lead at 21.39 when he back-handed home a rebound from close range on the power play. Sean Bentivoglio then made it 3-0 when he waited for Whistle to commit before dancing around him unchecked to slot home at 25.30.
Mike Hedden's shot then deflected and looped over the unfortunate Whistle to make it 4-0 on the power play at 31.33 before Evan Mosey skated on to the puck to smash it past replacement goalie Brad Day at 33.00. With just over five minutes remaining, Myers added his second of the night to add insult to injury.
The weekend had promised so much when Cardiff’s sole rivals for the EIHL title, Belfast, rolled into Sheffield 24 hours earlier.
The Steelers have matched up well with Adam Keefe’s side this season and responded impressively after going behind to Darcy Murphy’s 15th-minute opener.
John Armstrong’s piledriver shot levelled matters two minutes later with the hosts taking the lead at 28.43 through a back-post tap-in from defenceman Ryan Martinelli off a pinpoint feed from Armstrong.
A neat 53rd-minute finish on a 2-on-1 breakaway from Anthony DeLuca strengthened the Steelers’ grip on the game, with Jonas Westerling forcing the puck home into an empty net after good work by Eric Neiley.