SHEFFIELD Steelers returned from Scotland with a maximum points haul to extend their winning streak to nine games and further erode Belfast Giants’ lead at the top of the Elite League table.
A 4-2 win at Edinburgh Capitals’ Murrayfield rink on Saturday was followed by a 6-3 triumph at the same venue 24 hours later leaving Ryan Finnerty’s team seven points behind Belfast, but still with six games in hand.
It makes next Sunday’s clash between the two sides at the Motorpoint Arena even more important – perhaps more so for the Giants, who can only watch as the Steelers cut down the gap week after week.
On Sunday night it was the turn of the defensive unit to show their offensive prowess for the Steelers, with Steve Birnstill grabbing a hat-trick, while fellow blue-liner Matt Stephenson bagged a brace.
Ashley Tait had opened the scoring for Sheffield in only the second minute and although the Capitals kept themselves in contention with strikes from Rene Jarolin, Peter Holecko and player-coach Richard Hartmann – the last one making it 4-3 with seven minutes still on the clock – a win for the South Yorkshire club rarely looked in doubt.
On Saturday, the Steelers enjoyed a 2-0 first-period lead through Mike Ramsay and Jason Hewitt. Marcis Zembergs halved the deficit in the 33rd minute, but Steelers pulled away again before the end of the second through goals from captain Jonathan Phillips and Colt King. Zembergs added his second of the night in the final few minutes.
Edinburgh’s two losses to the Steelers were welcomed with open arms by Hull Stingrays, who clambered above them in the standings to seventh following a dramatic 2-1 shoot-out victory at home to Cardiff Devils.
The jubilant scenes in Hull on Sunday would have provided a stark contrast to the previous evening when they were walloped 8-5 in Cardiff.
Defenceman Dmitry Rodin was the shoot-out hero for Hull on home ice, finding a way past Stevie Lyle in the Cardiff goal, after all three of the visitors’ shots were denied.
In what was a far tighter encounter to the previous night’s turkey shoot, Kenton Smith had given Cardiff a 29th-minute lead, only for Jason Silverthorn to level just over a minute later.
That is how it stayed right through until overtime when Rodin held his nerve to secure the valuable extra point.
“It was a massive two points,” said player-coach Sylvain Cloutier. “It was a great team performance and everyone did a great job.
“We stuck to the system, we did not get frustrated even when they went one up and we did a really good job.”
Dominic Osman had grabbed a third period hat-trick in Cardiff on Saturday for Hull, but it was all a little too late after the visitors were already 8-2 down.
Cardiff raced into a 5-0 lead shortly after the half-hour mark through goals from Ben Davies, Kenton Smith, Scott Matzka, Stuart MacRae and Scott Dobben.
Jereme Tendler got Stingrays on the board at 37.35, but further strikes from Chris Frank, Jeff Pierce and Gerad Adams only increased Hull’s misery while Tendler, and then fellow forward Osman with his treble made the scoreboard look vaguely respectable.
In the English Premier League, Sheffield Steeldogs did the double over Swindon Wildcats, following up a 4-3 shoot-out victory on the road on Saturday with a 4-2 win at home 24 hours later.
Sunday, Elite League: Coventry Blaze 1 Nottingham Panthers 6, Dundee Stars 1 Fife Flyers 4, Edinburgh Capitals 3 Sheffield Steelers 6, Hull Stingrays 2 Cardiff Devils 1 (SO).
English Premier League: Peterborough Phantoms 3 Bracknell Bees 2 (SO), Sheffield Steeldogs 4 Swindon Wildcats 2, Telford Tigers 5 Guildford Flames 4 (SO), Basingstoke Bison 5 Slough Jets 4 (SO).
Saturday, Elite League: Braehead Clan 5 Dundee Stars 4, Cardiff Devils 8 Hull Stingrays 5, Edinburgh Capitals 2 Sheffield Steelers 4, Fife Flyers 0 Belfast Giants 3, Nottingham Panthers 6 Coventry Blaze 1.
EPL: Milton Keynes Lightning 1 Basingstoke Bison 5, Guildford Flames 9 Telford Tigers 1, Bracknell Bees 4 Manchester Phoenix 3 (OT), Slough Jets 5 Peterborough Phantoms 2, Swindon Wildcats 3 Sheffield Steeldogs 4 (SO).