Maximum haul helps Sheffield Steelers stay in the Elite League playoff hunt

THE race for the Elite League play-offs rumbles on.

IN THE FIGHT: Sheffield Steelers' Ben O'Connor battles for possession against Nottingham on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Nothing much has changed for the eight teams battling it out for the six spots realistically still up for grabs in the post-season.

Purely because of the points they already have on the board, Nottingham Panthers and Glasgow Clan remain the two most likely to join the leading pair of Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants in the glorified end-of-season knockout tournament, while it is still a free-for-all for those beneath them.

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In the middle of the mayhem that is currently the EIHL regular season are Sheffield Steelers, for whom inability to reach the play-offs would represent a huge failure.

OPENING SALVO: Captain Jonathan Phillips celebrates Sheffield Steelers' first goal against Nottingham. Picture: Dean Woolley.

But a maximum four-point haul in games against Nottingham and second-bottom Coventry Blaze handed their hopes of making it beyond March 31 a significant boost, particularly as last night’s win in the West Midlands ensured their hosts took no points from the weekend having already lost 6-5 the previous night at Cardiff.

As it stands the Steelers sit seventh, one place better off than when the weekend started.

Manchester Storm, who like Coventry took no points from the weekend, slipped out of the play-off places, but are only one point behind eighth-placed Dundee Stars. It could just as easily be two different teams sitting outside the top eight after next week.

The weekend got off to an excellent start for head coach Tom Barrasso’s team in front of their own fans at Sheffield Arena when their excellent record against the Panthers this season continued with a 3-1 win.

HOW THEY STAND: The Elite League table after the weekend's action.

The game sprang into life in the middle session when Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips opened the scoring with 21.56 on the board. Alex Bolduc had the Panthers level 1:06 later, but the Steelers were back ahead three seconds short of the halfway mark through Josh Pitt.

Tanner Eberle’s late empty net goal secured the points with just one second remaining.

In Coventry an excellent opening period from the visitors saw them two goals ahead after 20 minutes – Eberle opening the scoring at 3.49 , with forward Eric Neiley doubling the advantage at 18.56.

Neiley then found the net again, this time at 37:42 on the power play, leaving the Blaze with an uphill task in the final period.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Tom Barrasso. Picture: Dean Woolley.

But it was one they were almost equal to when, with just over nine minutes to go, they got themselves on the board through Alex Nikiforuk.

Then, with just over three minutes to go, Nikiforuk fired in again to make it a one-goal game only for his side’s hopes to be dashed soon after whenJonas Westerling fired into the empty net.

“For 40 minutes I really liked our team’s performance,” said Steelers’ head coach Barrasso. “But I felt in the third period we came off our game a little bit and allowed them to do what they do really well, which is get up and down the ice with speed and generate offence.

“And if you’re going to be successful against Coventry you have to try and take that away and we did a good job of that –apart from in the third period.”