SHEFFIELD Steelers can blow the battle for a Challenge Cup semi-final place wide open if they post back-to-back wins this weekend.
Ryan Finnerty’s team take a break from league action to take on Nottingham Panthers and Cardiff Devils in the group phase knowing that two defeats would make qualification for the last four virtually impossible.
Finnerty will be looking for his team to bounce back from a poor performance against arch-rivals Nottingham when the two met at Sheffield Arena in their first Group B clash last weekend, with the visitors enjoying a comfortable 4-2 win.
“Our destiny is still very much in our own hands here,” said Finnerty. “We are in a position where we can’t afford to have any bad nights.
“It’s all about how you react to defeats like last Sunday – we were second-best in everything. The first 20 minutes will be crucial in Nottingham.
“We’re still a nine and one hockey club in the league, so there’s no cause for panic after losing like we did.”
With Nottingham already on 10 points it would take a highly unlikely reversal of fortune for Corey neilson’s side not to progress to the last four, even if Steelers manage to defeat them on Saturday night.
With, therefore, effectively only one spot up for grabs, Steelers need to make sure they at least win both games against second-placed Cardiff, who visit Ice Sheffield on Sunday night (6pm). With two games to come against a struggling Hull Stingrays and another against a Coventry Blaze team that is consistent only for its inconsistency, there are grounds for Finnerty’s optimism that the Steelers can still join the Panthers in the semi-finals.
Finnerty was frustrated by the effort from his players last Sunday and said practice had been more workmanlike and focussed as a result throughout the past week in an attempt to gain swift revenge in the return match.
“We’ve got a mature team here,” added Finnerty. “And we are not going to be running around the NIC as if we’ve got our heads cut off. We’ve won nine games out of 10 this season (in the league) and we need to make sure that we stick to the systems that have served us so well already this season.
“We need to win all the one-on-one battles and if we do all the little things right like that it usually adds up to being a successful night.”
Although a Challenge Cup game, Nottingham are predicting a sell-out for Saturday night’s encounter with their fierce rivals with only a handful of seats remaining as of late Friday night.