ALTHOUGH the bus ride home from Kirkcaldy may have been a sombre one given their 5-4 overtime loss to Fife Flyers, there were still plenty of reasons to be cheerful for Sheffield Steelers when taking the whole weekend into context.
Three points out of four on offer against one of their main playoff rivals cannot be sniffed at, particular at a time of the season when every little bit helps.
Having come from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 lead in the 47th minute, the Steelers looked to have the game won when captain Jonathan Phillips made it 4-3 with just under two minutes remaining.
But, a tripping call on Robert Dowd gave Fife a two-man advantage when they pulled netminder Shane Owen for the extra attacker and, with 31 seconds left, the numerical superiority paid off when Brett Bulmer equalised.
Then, just over three minutes into overtime, Rick Pinkston struck to give the hosts the extra point and take them level on points with sixth-placed Steelers, with two games in hand.
Earlier, Todd Dutiaume’s team raced into a two-goal lead when Bulmer’s ninth-minute opener was followed by a Danick Gauthier strike five minutes later.
But Tom Barrasso’s side rallied impressively and enjoyed the better of the second period, halving the deficit through Ben O’Connor’s 26th-minute power play strike and then drawing level through Aaron Johnson, again with the man advantage, at 31.35.
It was another power play strike which saw the Steelers take the lead for the first time in the 47th minute, although John Armstrong’s goal was nullified when Evan Bloodoff dragged the hosts level at 51.26, with the late drama eventually going the hosts’ way.
On Saturday, the Steelers had run out deserved winners at home to Fife, although it took until the third period when they scored three unanswered goals to make their superiority count.
Dowd opened the scoring when he tipped home a Tom Zanoski effort at 10.26 and, although the Steelers outshot the visitors 31-16 in the first 40 minutes, they found themselves tied at 1-1 come the start of the third period after Carlo Finucci was allowed time and room to equalise at 36.39 on the power play.
But the Steelers’ dominance continued in the final 20, the hosts getting their noses in front again at 44.16 when Eric Neiley’s determination to drive the net paid off when his deflected effort evaded netminder Shane Owen.
The Steelers doubled their lead two minutes later when Dowd was quickest to react to a rebound after Owen could only parry Armstrong’s effort back out in front of the net.
Neiley then pounced from close range to make it 4-1 in the 57th minute.
Elsewhere, Belfast Giants retained the Challenge Cup Final when Jordan Smotherman’s overtime winner gave them a 2-1 win over Guildford Flames.
In NIHL North One, title rivals Hull Pirates, Sheffield Steeldogs and Telford Tigers all won to ensure their battle for silverware will be decided on the last weekend of the season.
All three teams are on 62 points with Hull hosting Telford on Saturday before travelling to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield the following night, when Telford welcome Solihull.