SHEFFIELD STEELERS gave up some ground in the Elite League title race with a 4-2 defeat at Belfast Giants, but remain the team to catch.
Hosts Belfast moved level on points with second-placed Cardiff Devils as a result of their victory, leaving them five adrift of Aaron Fox’s side with two games in hand.
It was the Steelers - boosted by the return of forward Marc-Olivier Vallerand and defenceman Ben O’Connor - who got the scoring underway in the 19th minute through Nikolai Lemtyugov when he cut in from the right boards and drove the net to force the puck past Shane Owen.
But thoughts of entering the first break ahead quickly vanished when two goals in just over a minute gave the hosts the lead.
Bobby Farnham sprinted clear for his shot to beat Tomáš Duba down low before, with just 11 seconds left on the clock, Rickard Palmberg made a power play opportunity count with a fierce one-timer from the right wing.
Sheffield showed the qualities that had kept them top of the regular season standings in recent weeks, however, and deservedly drew level at 37:34 through Josef Hrabal's deflected shot.
With little quarter given, the next goal was always likely to prove the most crucial and it went the way of the Giants at 51.08 when David Goodwin got the final touch on the puck after a goalmouth scramble.
As the Steelers pushed for an equaliser, the Giants ensured two points were theirs when Elgin Pearce scored an empty-netter with five seconds remaining.
Afterwards, Steelers' head coach Aaron Fox, said: "It doesn't matter how many games you play, with the injuries we've had we're fighting it right now.
"It was great to get those two guys back (Vallerand and O'Connor) but we lost Tanner Eberle in the first period and missed him in the second and third and he's a huge energy guy for us and lead's the league in plus-minus, so it hurt not having him in the second and third just for his energy.
"I thought it was a pretty good hockey game, two teams battling hard, their goaltender played really well, especially at the end of the second and start of the third when I thought we took the game over, but they scored a timely goal in the third and got some timely saves and it was enough for them."
The Steelers’ have an early chance to get back on the winning trail tomorrow night when they host Glasgow Clan (4pm face-off) with Zack Fitzgerald's team keen to exact some revenge after last week's meeting in Scotland.
At 3-1 down entering the final 10 minutes, the Steelers switched up a gear, scoring four goals in as many minutes to leave the home side floored and although he admits he never saw that many goals coming, Fox said he remained confident that at no point were his team fighting a lost cause.
“I don’t think you ever see that sort of thing coming, but we’d actually had quite a few chances up to that point but had only found the net on one of them,” he said.
“So, we just kind of kept that mindset that all it takes is one shot and the momentum changes and we were able to find a way to get that first one home and then you feel that life pick up on the bench a little bit and we kind of got rolling again from there and got a bug, big win for us.”