SHEFFIELD STEELERS suffered from a touch of road weariness on Sunday evening, unable to build on Saturday’s 4-0 win at Nottingham Panthers as they lost out at Guildford Flames.
And while Paul Thompson’s team were left to wonder what might have been in Surrey, defending Elite League champions Cardiff Devils took another major step towards retaining their title.
Andrew Lord’s team will wake up Monday morning nine points clear of their closest rivals Belfast Giants who, like the Steelers, suffered a setback in their bid to rein in Cardiff when they went down 6-3 at home to third-placed Manchester Storm.
As for the Steelers, they now find themselves 16 points back from Cardiff. They may have a game in hand and four encounters still to come against the South Wales club, but – with just 15 games remaining – the cold, harsh reality is that hopes of returning to the Champions Hockey League are all but gone for another year.
Head coach Thompson – forced to make do without five key players – was left frustrated at his side’s failure to take anything from the trip to Guildford.
“It was far from the best game, but we deserved a point,” said Thompson. “It wasn’t a fluid game by any means, but we blew a point or two away. When we got it back to 2-2 I thought we would take something from the game.
“The reality is that we made two stupid decisions for their second and third goals and that is what cost us the points.”
The Steelers twice came from behind at The Spectrum, Matt Marquardt striking on the powerplay at 26.03 to cancel out Rhett Rachinski’s 19th-minute opener for the hosts.
But it was in a more frantic third period where the game was decided, Ian Watters restoring the hosts’ lead at 45.30 only for Levi Nelson to draw the visitors level with just over eight minutes remaining.
Watters’s second of the night proved to be the crucial blow when it arrived at 54.29 and, as the Steelers pressed for a third equaliser, Ervins Mustukovs was pulled, which only allowed Watters to grab his hat-trick goal with an empty-net strike with just 39 seconds remaining.
On Saturday, Jonas Westerling was Steelers’ hero, scoring a first career hat-trick, with fellow Swedish forward Andreas Valdix also on the scoresheet.
It wasn’t a fluid game by any means, but we blew a point or two away. When we got it back to 2-2 I thought we would take something from the game.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson