WHATEVER it is that Elite League leaders Cardiff Devils get up to on their coach journeys up to South Yorkshire this season, it clearly works.
For a third straight time, Andrew Lord’s side returned home with both points, stretching their lead over second-placed Sheffield Steelers to seven points with a smash-and-grab win.
But for a nightmare five-minute spell in the third period when they conceded three goals, Paul Thompson’s side would have been celebrating a first win on home ice over their rivals.
Surrendering a two-goal lead is never easy to take but the Steelers will have come off the ice wondering how they took nothing from the game.
The goals with which they took a 2-0 lead were both memorable, for totally different reasons.
Just over seven minutes had elapsed when Guillaume Desbiens made a telling contribution.
After Yared Hagos escaped being severely punished when caught in possession in front of goal, the puck broke free but still required Desbiens to be at full stretch to poke it further clear to safety down the right-hand boards. The 31-year-old Canadian then put in a lung-bursting spurt to stretch full-length again in order to beat a second Cardiff opponent to the puck and guide it to centre ice where an unmarked Colton Fretter had caught up with him before rifling home past Ben Bowns.
Despite an end-to-end flow to the first period, clear-cut chances were few and far between until early in the second when the Steelers had a chance to go two up through a Levi Nelson penalty shot, only for Bowns to stand tall and deny him.
Nelson went close again when bearing down on Bowns, who then got in the way of a Nelson tip before enjoying his best moment seconds later when he somehow denied Fretter when the Steelers forward had the goal at his mercy.
But Fretter was the one celebrating just under three minutes into the third period when he produced a sublime piece of skill to grab his second of the night, dancing and weaving his way through the Cardiff defence before back-handing the puck over Bowns’s right shoulder.
Crucially, Cardiff halved the deficit swiftly, a poor clearance forcing Steelers’ netminder Ervins Mustukovs to save twice before the puck fell to Sean Bentivoglio, who was left with a simple finish at 45.07.
If that muffled the positive noise emanating from the home fans, what happened just over three minutes later silenced them completely when Doucet levelled after his shot cannoned in off the back of Mustukovs’s skate.
And when Patrick Asselin put the Devils 3-2 up at 49.42 there was an overwhelming feeling of ‘here we go again’ among the home support, the mood darkening even more when Davey Phillips got caught by Asselin, who held off the defenceman’s attempts to reclaim posssession before forcing the puck through Mustukovs’s legs.
A frustrated Thompson admitted afterwards that his team “stopped skating” after going 2-0 up, allowing a team no doubt likely to once again push them close for the title back into the game.
At 2-0 I felt great but we stopped playing, we stopped skating and they picked it up because they were desperatePaul Thompson, Sheffield Steelers head coach.
“You have to play for the full 60 minutes and we didn’t do that,” said Thompson. “We stopped skating when we went 2-0 up. At 2-0 I felt great but we stopped playing, we stopped skating and they picked it up because they were desperate to get back into the game and we’ve gifted them three, maybe all four goals - that’s the disappointing thing.
“If you want to beat Cardiff you can’t turn off. If you want to beat anybody in this league, you can’t turn off. We know we didn’t perform, but we’ve got a good bunch of pros and we’ve got to come back on Sunday and try to take it out on Belfast Giants.”