SHEFFIELD STEELERS may have no hope of retaining their Elite League title – but they can still have a big say over who inherits their crown.
The odds are still firmly stacked in Cardiff Devils’ favour, eight points ahead of third-placed Steelers with four to play but – more importantly – five ahead of second-placed Belfast Giants.
But Sunday night’s 6-2 win over Cardiff by the Steelers at Sheffield Arena – earning them swift revenge for their 3-2 defeat in the Challenge Cup Final in South Wales last Sunday – has opened the door, albeit very slightly, for Belfast.
If the Steelers can repeat the trick when the Devils visit South Yorkshire again next Saturday then the title race could go down to the final weekend when Belfast and Cardiff face each other twice in South Wales.
For Steelers’ head coach Paul Thompson, combined with Saturday night’s 3-2 win at Braehead Clan, the victory over Cardiff represented an important boost for his team as they prepare to make a serious bid for the play-offs.
“It’s been a bit of a week since the final, to be honest, and a lot of criticism has been thrown around and there’s always a lot of emotion,” said Thompson.
“It’s not often that we come off the back of three losses but we ground out a result at Braehead on Saturday and then we came back here in the early hours of Sunday morning and I wanted us playing with that edge and that belief against Cardiff.
“And although we believe in our team, they themselves have to find a way through that and led by Robert Dowd, Levi Nelson and (Andreas) Valdix I thought the whole team were outstanding against a very, very good Cardiff side.
“We played like the champions we currently are and Cardiff will go on and win it unless something happens between them and Belfast.
“They could have win it here but we didn’t want that happening - we didn’t want them celebrating in our building.”
British forward Dowd oozed star quality all weekend for the Steelers, scoring a total of four goals and one assist.
Dowd’s 10th-minute opener set the tone last night before player-coach Andrew Lord pulled the visitors level at 22.27.
Guillaume Desbiens restored the home side’s lead only for Mark Richardson to ensure parity again at 34.52.
A 3-2 lead at the end of the second through Levi Nelson’s 36th-minute strike, however, gave the Steelers a platform from which to come out and build in the third, further strikes coming from Andreas Valdix, Ben O’Connor and Dowd.
To a man, I thought the whole team were outstanding against a very good Cardiff side.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson.
On Saturday, Dowd again proved key after the Steelers trailed 1-0 at the first break following Matt Keith’s 15th-minute powerplay strike.
John Armstrong levelled for the visitors in Glasgow just under three minutes into a second period which was brought to a pleasing close when Dowd struck 90 seconds before the horn.
Just over a minute into the third, Dowd was at it again, benefitting from good work by nelso and Valdix to double the Steelers’ lead, one they held on to despite it being reduced by Keith’s second powerplay marker of the night at 53.46.