The defending champions’ bid for a third straight Elite League took a hammer blow at Sheffield Arena, the hosts unable to recover from conceding four unanswered goals in the first period.
And while they can cancel out the damage done between themselves and Belfast when the two meet again 24 hours later, it has dented their chances of closing the gap on leaders Cardiff Devils who, after a 5-0 home win over Nottingham, are now six points clear of third-placed Steelers.
“It was a crushing start for us,” admitted head coach Paul Thompson afterwards. “You can’t take anything away from Belfast - I felt they were excellent.
“Four out of their five goals were probably down to individual mistakes and if you give a team like Belfast opportunities like that then they are going to take advantage.
“And I think we were so stressed after that, that it took us some way into the second period until we could find ourselves again.
“I don’t think we were mentally with it at the start of the game and, while we don’t throw anybody under the bus here - I know I’ve still got a good buncch - for that opening spell of 15 m inutes or so we looked a bit lost.”
Chris Higgins started the first period carnage in the sixth minute before defenceman Mike Quesnele doubled the advantage with a simple tap in at the back post just three minutes later.
It got worse in the 13th minute when David Rutherford made it 3-0 when pouncing on a rebound after a goalmouth scramble before he was again left free to fire home a second effort on the powerplay at 17.24.
If the stunned home fans thought there was going to be any hope of a comeback, that was firmly extinguished just after the halfway point when Blair Riley finished off a swift breakaway.
Colton Fretter finally got the Steelers on the board in the 36th minute when he poked home from in front from a Mathieu Roy feed from the left side but that was it for the home side until Luke Ferrara poked home a last-minute rebound, neither effort more than mere consolations on a night to forget.