TOM BARRASSO struggled to hide his frustration after his Sheffield Steelers team were denied late on at Manchester Storm on Sunday night.
The weekend had started brightly for the Steelers with a 4-3 win over Coventry Blaze on Saturday, a much-needed positive turn of events after the midweek 6-1 hammering at home against Glasgow Clan.
But despite a valiant effort in an absorbing encounter at Altrincham Ice Arena 24 hours later, the Steelers were unable to take more than two points from the weekend in their long-running battle to make the Elite League play-offs, eventually losing out 5-4.
Two power play goals in the last eight minutes did for the Steelers, who had twice come from behind to take a 4-3 lead early in the third period.
With eight games remaining, the Steelers sit in sixth place in the regular season standings, four points clear of of ninth-placed Coventry, who Manchester edged above into the last playoff spot as a result of last night’s win.
But head coach Barrasso was left to contemplate about what might have been for his players had officials not intervened in the closing minutes, when penalty calls on defencemen Ryan Martinelli and Davey Phillips within 29 seconds of each other left the Steelers fighting off a 5-on-3 power play.
That numerical advantage was only 19 seconds old when Storm’s Mike Hammond fired past Steelers’ netminder Jackson Whistle for what proved the game-winning goal.
“The frustration is palpable with calls that get made and calls that don’t get made,” said Barrasso.
“And it really had a strong determination on the outcome of the game, which is unfortunate. You’d like the players to get the opportunity to decide the game with three minutes left to go in a tied game - but that was not the case.”
The Steelers’ team coach had broken down on the way to Altrincham but, despite going behind to an early Luke Moffatt strike, the lack of warm-up was clearly not an issue when they quickly hit back to go ahead through goals from Eric Neiley and Evan McGrath with just over five minutes on the clock.
Ciaran Long levelled for the hosts at 13.08 before a second from Moffatt at 21.52 put them ahead.
The Steelers had two second period goals waived off by the officials after video reviews but deservedly pulled level through a Tom Zanoski power play strike early in the third.
A breakaway goal from captain Jonathan Phillips then put the visitors ahead at 44.43, only for a power play strike from Long to bring things level again, Hammond landing the killer blow just over four minutes later.
On Saturday, the Steelers avenged the shoot-out loss at Coventry Blaze just six days earlier with a win more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.
The Steelers took the lead at 14.41 when Anthony DeLuca poked home after McGrath’s attempted wraparound fell kindly for him. That lead was doubled early in the second through John Armstrong on the breakaway, although the Blaze halved the deficit at 26:52 when Nicolai Bryhnisveen was given far too much time and space to shoot past Whistle.
DeLuca grabbed his second of the game at 31:16 with a slapshot that crawled through Hackett’s five-hole and rolled into the net and it seemed to be game over when Josh McFadden put the Steelers into a 4-1 lead at 46.35..
But the Blaze signalled their intention to fight back when Ben Lake made it 4-2 with a back-post tap-in at 49:27. Then, with just over two minutes remaining, Kevin Morris ensured some late nerves when he made it a one-goal game.
But it was to prove a pointless weekend for the Blaze who, after failing to take anything home from Sheffield, lost out on home ice 3-2 to Fife Flyers on Sunday.