SHEFFIELD STEELERS were knocked off the top of the Elite League table last night as they fell to a 5-3 defeat at the hands of title rivals Belfast Giants.
The third straight loss for the Steelers – coming on the back of two setbacks to Nottingham Panthers over the Christmas period – saw them replaced as leaders by Braehead Clan, who edged one point ahead after a 4-2 win at Fife Flyers.
On the plus side, the Steelers have two games in hand on Braehead and have an immediate chance to cancel out Belfast’s win when the two teams meet again at the Odyssey Arena tonight.
Only one point will separate Steelers and third-placed Belfast when they face-off again, the Giants having played a game more.
Steelers’ head coach Gerad Adams was once again left unhappy with some of the penalty calls – his team were handed 12 minors to Belfast’s six – but he remained in buoyant mood ahead of tonight’s renewal.
“I feel for my players, I think we did everything we could possibly do to win that hockey game,” said Adams.
“It may sound like a broken record for me, but it is a fact that we are up against some outside elements when we’re playing and it’s making it very difficult for my players.
“We kept the post-match talk positive and we’ve got to come back here and win on Saturday.
“We need to start getting points – of that there is no question – just to make sure we keep pace with everybody else.”
Steelers went in at the first period break 2-0 ahead thanks to Dustin Kohn’s third-minute powerplay strike and a short-handed effort from captain Jonathan Phillips at 11.07.
But by the next time the teams went off the ice, it was all square after Evan Cheverie – on the powerplay at 29.44 – and Cody Brookwell (38.50) struck back.
Third-period powerplay strikes from Calvin Elfring and Robby Sandrock then gave the home team an advantage they never relinquished, despite Steelers’ swiftly reducing the deficit to one goal again through Ben O’Connor at 54.20.
Craig Peacock’s last-minute empty-net strike confirmed both points for the home team.
Hull Stingrays will look to rebound from a 7-0 midweek hammering at Cardiff Devils when they face the same opponents on home ice tonight in the Challenge Cup.
A regulation win for Hull will guarantee them a two-legged quarter-final tie against Braehead. Defeat means Coventry Blaze will go through from Group B instead.
“We want to rebound after our loss in Cardiff on Tuesday,” said player-coach Omar Pacha.
“It is the first time we have faced this scenario, it will be a good challenge and preparation for the future.
“It will be the same in the play-offs, so we can learn from these type of games.
“It would be a great accomplishment if we were to get through the group with seven points and wins over Nottingham, Coventry and Cardiff.”