SHEFFIELD Steelers may have begun the post-Doug Christiansen era on the wrong end of a shoot-out, but they will take plenty of confidence into the second leg of their Challenge Cup semi-final in Nottingham tomorrow night.
Acting player-coach Steven Goertzen will have been pleased with his players’ efforts in the 3-2 defeat at Cardiff Devils last night following a difficult few days in the wake of head coach Christiansen being fired by owner Tony Smith less than halfway through a two-year deal.
Christiansen’s former club Belfast Giants last night clinched the regular season title following two wins on the road at Nottingham Panthers.
But hope remains the Steelers can lift one of the league’s two remaining trophies, either by overcoming a two-goal deficit at the National Ice Centre tomorrow to book a Challenge Cup final date with Belfast, or by lifting the end-of-season play-off trophy for the first time since 2009.
Steelers fought back twice in South Wales, trailing initially to a ninth-minute opener by Jake Morrissette before levelling through Chad Langlais’s powerplay strike at 23.10.
Mac Faulkner’s 32nd goal of the season – also a powerplay effort – at 35.49 swung the encounter in the home side’s favour once again, but it didn’t take as long for the Steelers to get back on level terms, Tim Spencer firing past Cardiff goaltender Kamil Kowalski just under two minutes later.
With no further goals and overtime failing to produce a winner, it was Cardiff who snatched the extra point with successful attempts from Max Birbraer and Morrisette.
Cardiff had gone into last night’s game on the back of a 5-3 defeat on the road at Hull Stingrays 24 hours earlier.
But Sylvain Cloutier’s team couldn’t build on that success, suffering a third successive Gardiner Conference defeat in a 7-2 reverse on the road at Fife Flyers.
Fortunately for Hull, little damage was done to their Conference title ambitions with new leaders Dundee Stars suffering a 4-3 defeat at Edinburgh Capitals, just 24 hours after a 4-2 win over the same opponents had taken them top of the Conference.
Hull were 3-0 down after just nine minutes to Cardiff on Saturday before roaring back with goals from Jereme Tendler, Guillaume Doucet (2), Omar Pacha and Matty Davies.
Doucet and Pacha were again on target in Fife, but it was to prove a disappointing trip to Kirkcaldy for the visitors.
Goals from Jordan Fulton (5.01) and Justin DaCosta (10.33) fired Flyers into an early two-goal lead as Stingrays’ first-period problems continued.
Tim Hartung (23.56) extended Flyers’ score before Doucet pulled a goal back for Stingrays at 32.55 with his 45th marker of the season.
But a Ned Lukacevic double (34.14 & 39.58) ensured a four-goal cushion for Flyers heading into the final period.
Pacha notched a second for Stingrays at 44.47, but Fulton (48.18) and Steve Gunn (54.30) rounded off the scoring for the hosts.
A frustrated Cloutier said: “You saw two totally different teams this weekend. We didn’t show up in Fife - we were awful.”