SHEFFIELD STEELERS' hopes of finally landing the Challenge Cup in the Elite League era were ended for another year after they were hammered 7-1 by Cardiff Devils - the result securing a 9-7 aggregate victory for the defending champions.
The Steelers - missing the suspended Andreas Jamtin and injured defenceman Mikka Franssila in Cardiff, in addition to injured forwards Rob Dowd, Colton Fretter and John Armstrong - enjoyed a 6-2 triumph in last week's first leg of the semi-final clash in Sheffield, but they could not hold back a rampant Devils determined to overturn the four-goal deficit.
Eric Neiley was the only Steelers' player to get on the scoreboard, his eighth-minute powerplay effort cancelling out Matthew Myers' opener a minute earlier, which had also come on the man advantage - the first of four powerplay goals on the night for the hosts
Layne Ulmer, Matt Pope - both on the powerplay - and Justin Faryna then scored past Ervins Mustukovs. The game-tying goal came just 45 seconds into the third and final period from the stick of Paul Crowder, the Devils going ahead overall through Patrick Asselin just 20 seconds later.
Only another 81 seconds had passed before the Devils bagged an insurance powerplay strike from Sean Bentivoglio, sealing the Steelers' fate.
Afterwards, Steelers' head coach Paul Thompson struggled to contain his frustration.
"Our club was humiliated tonight and I was embarrassed by our performance," said Thompson. "And I expected way, way more. We went there with a four-goal lead and it is always tough playing a second leg on the road - we all know that.
But to capitulate like we did in the second and the third period isn't good enough. You’ve got to do whatever it takes against Cardiff. We had three or four gilt-edged chances which we didn’t take (in Cardiff).
"We were sloppy on Sunday (in defeat to Manchester Storm) and I gave them the benefit of the doubt because of the type of games and the intensity of the games we’ve been playing. But that performance against Cardiff wasn’t good enough and I’m deeply, deeply disappointed."