SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ unbeaten run may have come crashing down around their ears at Elite League leaders Cardiff Devils last night, but there remain a number of opportunities to overhaul their rivals from South Wales.
A deserved 7-3 victory for Cardiff saw them extend their lead over second-placed Steelers to six points.
However, Paul Thompson’s team still have two games in hand on their Welsh rivals and have another three league meetings with the Devils in which to overturn the deficit - the first of which comes this Saturday at Sheffield Arena.
With Cardiff 3-0 ahead before the halfway mark, it was looking likely that the 400-mile round trip would end in disappointment.
Ben O’Connor reduced the deficit in the 37th minute but, with less than a minute of the third period gone, the game was all but finished after Cardiff had plundered a further three unanswered goals.
Two goals in just over a minute from Zack Fitzgerald and Ryan Hayes offered a glimmer of hope for an ambitious comeback before Chris Culligan’s 54th-minute powerplay effort - Cardiff’s fourth of the night on the man advantage - sealed a deserved win for the hosts.
Steelers had extended their winning streak in all competitions to four games 24 hours earlier by edging a see-saw game at home against Nottingham Panthers.
An opening powerplay goal from Steelers’ Tyler Mosienko came at 3.02, but the lead didn’t last long with Logan Macmillan equalising for the Panthers a little over two minutes later.
Luke Ferrara edged the Steelers ahead again at 8.40 but, again, Panthers were quickly level thanks to Stephen Schultz’s effort at 10.21.
Just 50 seconds into the second period and the Panthers went ahead for the first time through Paul Swindlehurst, only for the momentum to switch again when - 29 seconds later - Mathieu Roy dragged his team level with his 24th goal of the season.
Five minutes later, the Panthers edged ahead for a second time when Juraj Kolnik fired past Marek Pinc at 26.51.
New arrival Ryan Hayes, who had earlier picked up his first point as a Steeler by assisting on Roy’s strike, then added his first goal, getting the better of Panthers netminder Shane Madolora at 33.59.
It set up a grand finale in the third period and, when it came, it was in the hosts’ favour, defenceman Cullen Eddy providing the sweetest moment of the night for the home fans when he fired home the game-winner at 49.48.