SHEFFIELD Steelers not only assured themselves of a place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a 7-2 drubbing of Coventry Blaze – they also gave themselves a great chance to progress as group winners.
Colin Shields again proved to be the leading light for the South Yorkshire club, scoring his second hat-trick in three games to take his tally for the season to 10 goals and 21 points overall. The result means Ryan Finnerty’s team still enjoy a 100 per cent record in the competition.
The 32-year-old Glasgow-born sniper made his mark early at the Motorpoint Arena, finding a way past Peter Hirsch inside three minutes.
But Coventry – themselves already qualified for the last eight – were next to light the lamp, levelling the game through Shea Guthrie’s powerplay effort.
Shields reasserted Steelers’ superiority just 32 seconds into the second period but, once again, the determined visitors – fresh from their controversial Cup double-header against Cardiff Devils at the weekend – found a way back into the game with Greg Leeb making it 2-2 at 30.04 on the powerplay.
What proved to be the game-winning goal came from the stick of Shawn Limpright at 34.54 – his fourth of the season – as Steelers took advantage of their own man advantage with Guthrie in the penalty box on a slashing call.
Jeff Legue ensured he remains ahead of team-mate Shields in the point-scoring charts with his 10th of the season, again on the powerplay, at 35.57.
A 4-2 lead at the start of the third was soon extended at 46.32 when Matt Stephenson hit a third straight powerplay goal for the home side. Shields left it late to complete his hat-trick, reaching double figures for the season 1t 59.06.
Limpright rubbed salt into the wounds of Paul Thompson’s team when he made it 7-2 with his second of the night a few seconds later.