SHEFFIELD Steelers bounced back from shoot-out heartache in emphatic style by thrashing Elite League leaders Nottingham Panthers 9-4 last night.
Ryan Finnerty’s team had gone down 3-2 after a shoot-out in Nottingham on Boxing Day, but produced a stunning response in front of their own fans.
The result could prove crucial in the title race, with the gap now just nine points between the two rivals, with fourth-placed Steelers enjoying two games in hand.
Nottingham must have wondered how they went in 3-1 down at the end of the first period having come out the blocks much the stronger.
David Ling, Matt Francis and Bruce Graham all went close for the visitors, but it was the Steelers who took the lead at 8.10, Chris Frank picking up a loose puck to fire past the right side of Craig Kowalski in the Panthers goal.
The lead lasted only 75 seconds, however, when a one-two with Matt Myers allowed David Clarke to get in a shot which squirmed through Steelers’ netminder John DeCaro.
Ashley Tait had a goal disallowed in the 12th minute but it wasn’t long before he restored the home side’s lead at 15.34, a goal which resulted in Panthers’ Kelsey Wilson being ejected from the game after a blatant slash which poleaxed Simon Ferguson during the goal celebrations.
A meeting of the Elite League’s disciplinary committee on Friday resulted in Wilson being handed an immediate three-game ban for his witless, unprovoked attack.
It got worse for the Panthers at 17.16 on the resulting five-minute powerplay, Tyler Michel ending a barren spell to prod home his 10th goal of the season.
Things got no better for the Panthers when, early in the second, Drew Fata fired home after a Jeff Legue feed at 20.50. Only 18 more seconds had passed when Tait’s tip-in from a Meyers shot made it 5-1.
Pat Galivan gave the Panthers a glimmer of hope when he back-handed past DeCaro to cut the deficit to three goals at 24.35, but a breakaway at 35.22 saw Tait fire past Kowalski to make it 6-2. Matt Francis pulled one back at 38.05 only for Sarich to then restore the four-goal advantage for the home side when he fired through an out-of-sorts Kowalski 34 seconds later.
With Kowalski replaced by Dan Green in the Panthers net, it wasn’t long before the Steelers struck again, Michel grabbing his second of the night at 46.15 before Jonathan Phillips made it 9-3 less than a minute later. Pat Galivan grabbed a 59th-minute consolation for the visitors.
Afterwards, Finnerty couldn’t speak highly enough of his players.
“I was so pleased how we stayed disciplined and played to our systems even when the game was won and out of their reach,” he said.
“Our players didn’t go point hunting, they stuck to their guns and showed their real character.
“This has been coming, we played well against Dundee and Belfast, then we played OK last night as well. The players know this style is the only style we can play. Everything comes from hard work, we do that and we create chances. Tonight we took them.”
On the Wilson slash, Finnerty added: “That kind of thing has no place in the sport.
“I’m sure the guy was frustrated but still you can’t go around doing that.”
Hull Stingrays ended a seven-game losing streak with a hard-fought 1-0 win at home to Edinburgh Capitals.
The crucial moment for Sylvain Cloutier’s side came at 11.33 when Jereme Tendler found the net on the powerplay with his 21st goal of the campaign.