Having defeated defiant county rivals Hull Stingrays in the semi-final with Mathieu Roy’s goal three seconds from time, Gerad Adams’s side fell 4-2 to the Blaze at the National Ice Centre.
It was the Blaze’s first play-off title in 10 years and was particularly sweet for three former Steelers’; Steven Goertzen who captained Sheffield to the play-off title last year, Ashley Tait who won the double with the team in 2008-09, and Jim Jorgenson.
Blaze, who were languishing in ninth place when coach Chuck Weber arrived in December, completed a remarkable turnaround to deny the league champions a second successive play-off triumph. Goertzen fired an early chance over for Blaze before he nudged his side ahead from the next play at 3.01.
Steelers were struggling to create any offence but, on the first powerplay of the game, Mike Forney was foiled by Blaze goaltender Brian Stewart and then fluffed a chance from close in.
Stewart, the league’s netminder of the year, also came out on top against player of the year Roy.
Jereme Tendler doubled Blaze’s lead just 29 seconds into the middle session before Ross Venus capitalised on an error in the Steelers’ defence to produce a composed finish at 29.17.
Tait, who netted the overtime winner when Blaze last lifted the trophy in 2005, made it 4-0 at 30.44 after an error from Steelers netminder Josh Unice.
Steelers pulled a goal back in bizarre circumstances when Stewart went to retrieve his stick which had been kicked away by Roy, who duly tucked the puck into the empty net.
Roy then notched his 46th of the season at 47.03 with Steelers short-handed. Cale Tanaka saw a late penalty shot saved by Unice but Blaze were not to be denied.
Adams said: “We gave away three incredibly soft goals in the second period and that was the difference. Unfortunately the breaks went their way and they took advantage so you have to give them credit.”
Steelers had made it through to the final in the most dramatic of circumstances, Roy’s late strike sealing a 3-2 victory over Hull in Saturday’s first semi-final.
With just 3.8 seconds to go, the Steelers forward was in the right place at exactly the right time to poke the puck home past Hull’s David Brown.
Once the goal was confirmed, there was no way back for Omar Pacha’s Stingrays, who were left crushed after producing a performance that deserved better.
Underdogs Hull had given as good as they got against the league champions and, with the majority of the crowd behind them, rose to the occasion from the off. After a frantic, goalless first period in which Jordan Mayer had the clearest chance to break the deadlock for Hull – only to be denied point blank by Josh Unice – even better was to come in the second.
The Steelers – who had beaten Hull in all six previous meetings this season – thought they had taken the lead in the 24th minute through Robert Dowd’s tip in, only to see it ruled out on video review for high sticks.
After killing a near-minute five-on-three powerplay, Hull made their hard work pay off, the majority of the 7,000-plus crowd erupting when Eric Galbraith fired his team in front at 31.41 with a rasping shot from the right wing. Steelers were level on the powerplay at 34.51 when Darrell Hay’s shot from just inside the blue line found a way past Brown.
The defending champions got their noses in front exactly three minutes later when Colton Fretter finished off good work by Cullen Eddy by firing through Brown’s pads.
In the third, Dustin Kohn and Ben O’Connor both struck an upright as Hull rode their luck.
A few seconds later, however, Hull were level, Cory Tanaka firing past Unice from the left-wing.
The crucial moment came 30 seconds from the end when Pacha was sent to the box on a holding call.
The clock continued to tick down and, with everybody preparing for 10 minutes of overtime, Fretter did well to work the puck back from behind the goal to Roy, who, from in front of the net, squeezed it between Brown’s pads, ending Stingrays’ hopes of another play-off upset after their quarter-final win over Braehead Clan.
Hull shared 14 goals with Belfast Giants in yesterday’s third-fourth place play-off, the Giants winning 8-6.