YORKSHIRE rivals Sheffield Steelers and Hull Stingrays meet again this weekend knowing each could do serious damage to the other’s ambitions for the 2012-13 season.
Steelers made it five wins in as many games with Thursday night’s impressive 2-1 win at Cardiff Devils, enabling them to continue their pursuit of Elite League leaders Nottingham Panthers in the race for the title.
Ahead of tonight’s visit to the Motorpoint Arena from Fife Flyers and tomorrow’s encounter at the same venue against the Stingrays, the result leaves third-placed Steelers three points behind their East Midlands rivals, who have played a game less.
Nottingham should pick up four points this weekend with home games against Braehead Clan and Fife, meaning Ryan Finnerty’s in-form team can ill-afford any slip-ups – particularly ahead of next Friday’s meeting at the National Ice Centre with the Panthers.
But with all the Gardiner Conference teams scrapping to make the end-of-season play-offs, Steelers will come up against two teams this weekend desperately in need of points – none more so than Hull whose 4-1 defeat at Braehead on Wednesday left them rooted to the bottom of the overall standings, six points adrift of the eighth and final play-off place with 12 games remaining.
An alternative route still open for Hull is to win their conference but, with only six games remaining against their Scottish rivals, time is running out.
Before heading to Sheffield tomorrow night (5pm), Hull will play host to fourth-placed Cardiff tonight (6.30pm), with the South Wales club still smarting from Thursday’s reverse to the Steelers.
Hull have yet to take any points from the Steelers this season, losing all four previous meetings, including two in the Challenge Cup group phase.
But they have fared rather better against Cardiff, having won three out of the four previous meetings between the two, as well as picking up an overtime point in the other game.
“We need to take something off Cardiff and Sheffield,” said Hull player-coach Sylvain Cloutier.
“Against Cardiff we have done well this year and we should fancy our chances of taking something from them again – but I’m sure Cardiff will be thinking the same.”
Hull will be without forward Jason Silverthorn for tonight’s game after he was yesterday handed a one-game ban for following his instigator penalty in the last two minutes of the defeat at Braehead.
Steelers were boosted last night when second-placed Belfast Giants went down 5-2 at home to Coventry Blaze, leaving the South Yorkshire club just one point behind the defending regular season champions.