Sheffield Steeldogs and Leeds Knights enjoy maximum return but time running out for Hull Seahawks
Smarting they may have been from Friday night’s 5-3 defeat at the hands of Leeds Knights - who sealed a 10-5 aggregate win in the process - but Greg Wood’s team bounced back in perfect fashion.
There is still an eight-point gap between the Steeldogs and third-placed Peterborough Phantoms but, with a game in hand and 19 regular season games remaining their remains time for the Steeldogs to overhaul their Cambridgeshire rivals - maybe even catch the top two of Leeds and Milton Keynes Lightning.
In order to do so, they will have to match the consistency showed in back-to-back home games, following up Saturday’s comfortable 4-1 win over Raiders IHC - already looking assured of a play-off spot after missing out last season - with a more emphatic 9-5 victory over Bristol Pitbulls, who are locked in a five-team fight to lock in the bottom two post-season spots.
Bristol rallied late on to give some gloss to the scoreline but they were already 9-3 adrift thanks to braces from Cam Brownley, Jason Hewitt and Lee Bonner.
Steeldogs’ other goals came from Vladimir Vulkanovs, Lee Haywood and Alex Graham.
On Saturday, the Steeldogs found themselves level after two periods when Lee Bonner struck at 21.58 to cancel out Sean Barry’s third-minute opener for the visitors.
But three goals in four third period minutes settled matters, Graham striking the game-winner at 41.30 before further efforts came from Tom Palmer and Brownley.
Leeds continued where they left off against the Steeldogs on Friday night when they too recorded a four-point weekend to emerge as standalone leaders once more.
The 5-4 overtime win at title rivals Milton Keynes Lightning will certainly have helped, Matt Haywood getting the decisive marker in the spell of 3-on-3 which was made possible after Kieran Brown levelled the game with just 53 seconds of regulation remaining.
Thomas Barry was the Knights’ other scorer, his first for the team.
On Sunday, they hammered hosts and defending regular season champions Telford Tigers 8-4. Brown, Jake Witkowski and Zach Brooks all grabbed two goals apiece, with Cole Shudra and Mac Howlett also beating Brad Day.
At the other end of the table, however, Hull Seahawks’ play-off hopes took another blow when they returned home from a weekend on the road with nothing to show for their efforts, edged out 5-4 at Basingstoke Bison before a 4-2 loss at Raiders 24 hours later.
It leaves Hull 12 points off the play-off places with just 17 games remaining, placing enormous emphasis on next week’s home-and-away double-header against the Steeldogs.
On each night, it looked as if the Seahawks would take something from the game, leading by two goals on both occasions only to be cut down after conceding four unanswered goals.
In Basingstoke, Jordan Fisher broke the deadlock in the 10th minute, Travis Penny quickly cancelling that out before Sam Towner gave the visitors a 2-1 lead at the first intermission when he struck at 16.39.
Emil Svec made it 3-1 at 25.03 but, with 89 seconds of the period remaining, the Bison struck an important blow when Latvian Edgars Landsbergs made it a one-goal game.
Less than two minutes of the third had elapsed before Bison were level through Hallam Wilson, with Marcel Balaz giving his team the lead for the first time at 47.53.
Wilson’s second in the 54th minute left Hull reeling and although they made it a one-goal game again through the returning James Archer, his strike came with just five seconds remaining, meaning it was too late to do anything else.
In Romford, a double from Svec had the Seahawks 2-0 ahead with just over 25 minutes gone.
But that was as good as it got for Matty Davies’s teamAlex Roberts halving the deficit just past the halfway point before Michael Power levelled at 35.06.
With the next goal likely to be crucial, it went the way of the home side when Matthieu Gomercic struck at 46.35, Aaron Connolly making sure of both points when making it 4-2 at 57.28.