WHAT was already going to be a difficult assignment got even harder on Saturday night for Sheffield Steelers after they went down 3-1 at home to runaway Elite League leaders Belfast Giants.
The result, saw the visitors to the Motorpoint Arena end the Steelers’ nine-game win streak at home as well as stretch their lead over the Doug Christiansen’s team to 17 points.
A 3-2 overtime defeat to Coventry Blaze saw defending champions Nottingham Panthers take a point which moved them above Steelers in the overall league standings, leaving the South Yorkshire club in fourth, level on points with Braehead Clan.
The Steelers still have to play Belfast three more times and have two games in hand. But they are going to need help from elsewhere if they are to end their wait for a first regular season championship since 2011 under former player-coach Ben Simon.
On an emotional night in Sheffield, spectators showed their affection for former defenceman Randy Dagenais, whose 16-month-old daughter Eveleyne tragically died from pneumonia on Friday.
Before the match, the 5,000-strong crowd stood in silence and then later stood and cheered for the entire 12th minute - the number Dagenais wore on his back during his three years with the Steelers - even at the moment Belfast scored their first goal through Daryl Lloyd.
The Giants extended their lead in the middle session when Kevin Saurette pounced at 24.19 before Evan Cheverie made it 3-0 at 34.45.
Steelers’ Rob Sirianni gave the home side faint hope of a comeback when tapped home from close range following a Chad Langlais pass at 42.23, but it was as close as the Steelers were able to get to Paul Adey’s side.
The Steelers’ head to Scotland on Sunday night when they face Dundee Stars in the second leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-final.
Doug Christiansen’s team hold a 4-0 lead from the first leg which was staged in Sheffield on Wednesday.