ON paper it will look as if the weekend ended honours even between Sheffield Steelers and Cardiff Devils.
On Saturday night, Paul Thompson’s team returned from their trip to South Wales with a 5-4 victory, confirming their qualification from Group B for the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup.
But there was a price to pay for the defending Elite League champions and that came last night at Sheffield Arena, when Cardiff were the ones celebrating a second victory of the season in the Steelers’ building, heading home with a deserved 5-2 win.
Everybody knows that it was the second meeting between the two which will be more important come the end of the 2016-17 campaign.
“We had a bad night and that is taking nothing away from Cardiff who I thought were excellent,” said Steelers’ head coach Thompson.
“On Saturday we played well and were worthy winners in Cardiff but, back at our place, we just had no spark. It is disappointing because as a team we didn’t show up, it wasn’t just one or two people, it was all 20 of our players. We just got beat by a better team tonight, but we didn’t help ourselves.”
Early warning signs were there for the hosts when Andrew Hotham put Cardiff ahead at 10.47, with Mark Richardson doubling the visitors’ advantage on the powerplay just under five minutes later.
But it was a miserable second period which did the most telling damage, Cardiff going 3-0 ahead at 23.00 through Sean Bentivoglio although Robert Dowd replied a minute later to give the hosts’ some hope.
But that was shot by the end of the period after Bentivoglio’s second on the powerplay at 34.40 was followed by a Guillaume Doucet strike.
Dowd added his second early in the third, but there was no way back.
On Saturday, goals from Zack Fitzgerald, John Armstrong, Jesse Schultz (2) and Tyler Mosienko were enough to earn revenge for Cardiff’s 5-3 Group B win in Sheffield three weeks earlier.
It was the Steelers who struck first when Fitzgerald pulled a nice move to beat Sheffield-born netminder Ben Bowns to give his side the perfect start at 9.22.
But just 18 seconds before the end of the period, Richardson levelled on the powerplay while Davey Phillips was in the box on a holding call.
It was a dominant second period that won the game for the Steelers, scoring three unanswered goals, the first of which came from Armstrong at 25.26. It became 3-1 just under six minutes later when Schultz grabbed his first of the night, making the most of a powerplay brought about by a slashing call on the Devils’ Gleason Fournier.
It is disappointing because as a team we didn’t show up, it wasn’t just one or two people, it was all 20.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson
Mosienko then made life even more comfortable for the visitors when he scored a shorthanded strike at 36.12.
With just under 12 minutes remaining, Chris Culligan gave the hosts hope, only for Schultz to restore the three-goal advantage less than a minute later.
That uis how it stayed until two goals in the last two minutes from Andrew Hotham and Patrick Asselin, required Steelers to ride out a one-goal advantage for the last 20 seconds.