SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ hopes of a prolonged Champions Hockey League campaign have been all but extinguished after a frustrating night in South Yorkshire.
With just one Group P game remaining, head coach Paul Thompson admitted his team now needed a “miracle” to progress to the knockout phase.
Saturday night’s 5-2 defeat to HV71 Jonkoping may have made it three defeats in as many games, but there were still a number positives to take for the Steelers from their second encounter with the four-time Swedish champions.
Once again, however, there was the one big negative.
Prior to this meeting in front of a 4,000 crowd at Sheffield Arena, the Steelers had already shipped six powerplay goals, three in their 5-3 defeat at HV71 and the same again in an 8-1 humbling at the hands of Red Bull Salzburg 48 hours later.
In Sheffield, all five of HV71’s goals came on the powerplay. It left Thompson once again to cut a hugely frustrated figure on the home bench.
Missing Mathieu Roy, the Steelers had started the brighter, enjoying an early powerplay which saw them come close to breaking the deadlock on at least two occasions while on the man advantage.
But, typically, moments after the Steelers found themselves in the penalty box for first time – Tyler Mosienko on a holding call – the visitors made the most of their advantage, Chris Abbott tipping in from a Martin Tornberg slapshot at 12.28.
It only took another 74 seconds for HV71 to double their lead - Tornberg quickest to react to a save by Ervins Mustukovs just three seconds into another penalty against the Steelers, this time Zack Fitzgerald sent to the box for roughing.
The hosts were rocking but, crucially, they were able to go in at the first period break just one down after Robert Dowd fired in from 15 yards, just over a minute after Tornberg’s strike.
The second period somehow remained goalless, the biggest positives being Mustukovs’ penalty shot save from Mattias Tedenby’s and the Steelers’ ability to kill off eight minutes worth of penalties in the second half of the period.
It left them in a familiar situation against their opponents, having gone in a goal down after 40 minutes when the two teams first met at the Kinnarps Arena 10 days ago.
On that occasion, Dowd fired an early leveller to tie the game and give his team-mates hope of causing a major upset.
But it didn’t come, just as it didn’t once again in front of their own fans.
Once again, the Steelers were the architects of their own downfall, Ben O’Connor heading to the penalty box on a delay of game call which was punished after just 22 seconds when Teemu Laine pounced to make it 3-1 at 40.26.
If the life hadn’t been sucked out of the building after that goal, it certainly was when, with David Phillips handed a cross-checking penalty, HV71 extended their advantage through captain Abbott’s second of the night at 46.22.
If the HV71 powerplay had proved potent with just the one-man advantage, there was little doubt they would increase their hosts’ pain when presented with a short 5-on-3 opportunity.
Levi Nelson was first to sit in the penalty box for boarding at 49.27 before being joined by John Armstrong less than a minute later on a tripping call.
Almost inevitably, it took just six seconds for the visitors to make their advantage pay, Mattias Tedenby pouncing to make it 5-1 at 50.21.
Despite being deflated by proceedings, the Steelers rallied once they fell four behind and at least gave their fans something else to cheer about when Dowd fired home a rebound at 54.56 on the powerplay.