CAPTAIN Jonathan Phillips admits Sheffield Steelers could not have been left with a more difficult final weekend of the Elite League season - but is adamant his team is ready to deal with anything that will be thrown at them.
With just two games remaining, the Steelers are one of three teams who can still win the regular season championship - the most prized silverware in the UK top-flight.
But, if they are to get their hands on the Monteith Bowl for the first time since 2011, they are going to have to do it the hardest imaginable way.
Not only does the weekend see them head down the M1 tonight to take on fiercest rivals Nottingham Panthers, but it also brings them a visit from second-placed Cardiff Devils to the Motorpoint Arena tomorrow.
The requirements for the Steelers are quite simple - winning both games will ensure they lift the trophy. Lose both games and they will win nothing. A slip-up either tonight or tomorrow would leave them needing favours elsewhere on Sunday, when their two main rivals complete their schedules.
Steelers are currently ahead of Cardiff having won one more game in regulation, but if both teams only pick up one win this weekend - the Devils host Nottingham on Sunday - third-placed Braehead Clan could nip in and steal the honours if they win their games against Hull Stingrays and Fife Flyers, both teams who qualified for the play-offs in midweek due to Edinburgh’s 6-3 defeat on the road in South Wales.
Nottingham, too, have added reason to put a dent in their rivals’ title hopes as they are currently in pole position to win the Erhardt Conference for the first time in its short, three-year history.
Regardless of all the different kinds of scenarios that could emerge come 8.30pm on Sunday night, however, Steelers’ on-ice leader Phillips is only concerned with what his own team has to do.
“It’s a difficult final two games - it probably couldn’t be any tougher,” admitted Phillips.
“It’s not often that it comes down to the last weekend and the last two games of the regular season and it can go one of three ways.
“We know that if we win both games, we will win the title. We know what we have to do, but it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be very tough but this is what we play for, for moments like this.”
Of course, Steelers and the Devils have been in this situation before when, four years ago, the South Yorkshire club - led by player-coach Ben Simon - pipped a team then coached by current Steelers boss Gerad Adams by virtue of having won more games in regulation.
Steelers went into the weekend knowing two wins over Braehead would be enough, something they achieved despite having suffered a 7-1 thrashing thumping on home ice at the hands of Cardiff only a few weeks before.
While Braehead can profit from any slip-ups from the two teams above them, most focus will be on South Yorkshire tomorrow night when the two teams meet.
There is plenty of recent history between the two and it will be the fourth meeting in the past forthnight.
Cardiff deservedly won the Challenge Cup by beating Steelers 2-1 in their building. But, just three days later, the Steelers exacted vicious revenge when trouncing Andrew Lord’s side a remarkable 11-0 at the same venue.
Fast forward four days and the Devils kept themselves in the title race by beating the Steelers 6-3, with a win by the same scoreline against Edinburgh on Wednesday bringing the two teams level on points and games played.
But Phillips believes none of that will impact on the meeting between the two on Saturday back in Sheffield, although he acknowledges it will be a difficult enough assignment 24 hours earlier in Nottingham.
“Whenever you go down to Nottingham, you know you’re always going to be in a game - whatever kind of game it is - just with the rivalry and everything else that comes with it,” added former Cardiff forward Phillips, who played for Cardiff between 1999-2006.
“But when you add to that mix that they are also going for a Conference title and we’re trying to win the league - it’s certainly going to make it even more intense.
“Cardiff are in the same situation as us - win both of their games and they win the title.
“You can’t really read too much into the recent games. The one where we beat them 11-0 was just a one-off, you’re not going to see that very often. And in the final, they played very well and shut us down all over the ice and
“We’ve worked hard to get into this position and we now need to make that hard work count.”