IF Sheffield Steelers are to end Nottingham Panthers’ stranglehold on the Challenge Cup, they are going to have to produce something pretty special at the National Ice Centre on Tuesday night.
Corey Neilson’s team have won the competition for the last five seasons – six times in the last seven years and seven times overall.
In last night’s semi-final, first leg at the Motorpoint Arena, they gave themselves a great opportunity to extend that run of success in this year’s final when it takes place at the same venue on March 8.
Given it is their home ice, the Steelers would understandably love to be there but, if they are to make it, they will have to be do it the hard way.
The Steelers had gone into last night’s semi-final first leg in confident mood, having beaten the Panthers in their previous two meetings, including Saturday’s 3-2 win at the NIC.
But, it was to prove a frustrating night for he home side, not just because of the two-goal deficit they are faced with, but also due to them losing their second import goaltender to injury.
Josh Unice – deputising for the injured Frank Doyle – was involved in a collision early in the first period but continued after treatment on the ice.
But there was no coming back for the American after he was involved in a second coming together less than two minutes into the third period, prompting Geoff Woolhouse to finish the game in his place in what was just his second appearance of the season.
It was not until the 15th minute that the deadlock was broken last night, Evan Mosey silencing the home crowd. It got worse when Chris Lawrence doubled Panthers’ advantage at 16.47.
Mathieu Roy’s 31st goal of the campaign at 21.51 gave the home side belief, but Guillaume Doucet restored the visitors’ two-goal gap less than two minutes later.
Despite out-shooting the Panthers by 37-29, the Steelers could not reduce the deficit any further.
Although they will undoubtedly face an uphill battle in Tuesday’s second leg, their recent success against Nottingham will give them the belief required to turn the tie around.