SHEFFIELD STEELERS staged a remarkable late comeback to beat Coventry Blaze 5-4 in overtime at Sheffield Arena.
Trailing 4-3 with just 10 seconds of regulation remaining, a dramatic scramble in front of the Coventry net eventually saw Mark Matheson force the puck home to take the game into overtime when, with just 38 seconds gome, Ben O’Connor fired home a winner.
It was no more than the Steelers deserved, having come back to level the game on three different occasions, with Matheson’s late, late strike seeing the hosts eradicate the daunting 4-2 deficit that they were left facing at the end of what was, according to head coach Tom Barrasso, a frustrating second period.
“We worked way too hard,” said Barrasso. “We really got off our game in the second period and allowed them to play to their strengths and their transition game just ate us alive in the second period with what were foolish mistakes.
“But I felt the response in the third period was much better from the first shift to the last and we totally dominated, kept pressure on them continually and really just battled at the net and that is how the goals went in.
“So it’s rewarding in that sense but, hopefully, they learn the lesson and stick with what we’re trying to do and it will be successful.”
Coventry had taken the lead at 9.20 when Ben Lake was first to tap home a rebound off Steelers’ netminder Jackson Whistle when he could only parry Kelin Ainsworth’s initial blast which came on a breakaway after the hosts had missed a gilt-edged chance at the other end.
The lead didn’t last for long – 65 seconds to be exact – when an Evan McGrath stretch pass found Justin Buzzeo on the edge of the Coventry zone from where he was able to bear down on the Blaze goal before firing past Miroslav Kopriva.
Nicolai Bryhnisveen restored Blaze’s lead with some neat skill that left the Steelers’ defence and Whistle for dead at 21.56 but, again, it wasn’t long before the hosts were level, with Aaron Johnson firing home a piledriver on the power play at 24.21.
But, just 35 seconds later, Coventry seized the initiative again when Ainsworth was given too much time and space to fire past a partially unsighted Whistle, Steelers’ woes and the sense of dread among the sizeable home crowd intensifying when Jake Hansen made it 4-2 with just 86 seconds remaining in the period when the Blaze were presented with a simple 2-on-1.
The early goal the Steelers craved duly arrived just over two minutes into the third when, following a short spell of relentless pressure which saw Johnson hit the post and Jonathan Phillips denied from out in front, the puck fell to the stick of Johnson again and he was able to force the puck over the line.
It was another almighty scramble in front of net - this time with Whistle pulled and the Steelers on a 6-on-4 power play – that saw Matheson score a similarly ‘dirty’ goal to level proceedings in such dramatic fashion at 59.50.
It set the scene ideally for O’Connor to strike in only his second game since returning from Sweden, the 29-year-old defenceman stealing the puck at the halfway point in the three-on-three overtime before rounding the advancing Kopriva before back-handing the puck into the empty net.
“We made sure we stuck to our gameplan,” said man-of-the-match Aaron Johnson afterwards. “The third period was actually our best and it was when we played our system like we were supposed to.
I felt the response in the third period was much better from the first shift to the last and we totally dominated, kept pressure on them continuallySheffield Stelers’ head coach, Tom Barrasso.
“I’m glad it paid off and it’s going to build confidence going into the next game.
“There has definitely been an improvement in our game and, hopefully, it can continue. Anytime there is momentum when you can carry three wins out of the last four is definitely going to help our confidence moving forward.”
The win lifted the Steelers above Manchester Storm and Dundee Stars and up to eighth in the EIHL standings.
The Stars pay a second visit to Sheffield Arena this Saturday (face-off 7pm).