Sheffield Steelers answer critics in style with ‘gutsy’ road win over leaders Nottingham Panthers

PAUL THOMPSON hailed an overdue “gutsy” road performance from his Sheffield Steelers team after they downed Elite League leaders Nottingham Panthers 6-4 at the NIC.

Guillaume Desbiens opens his Steelers' account in the 53rd minute against Nottingham Panthers. Picture supplied by Steelers via Karl Denham.

The result capped a positive weekend for the Steelers, adding to the two points they secured with just seconds remaining at home to Coventry Blaze in a 3-2 win on Friday night.

It is all a stark contrast to the previous weekend when they lost both games, the Steelers’ players having Thompson’s stinging criticism of their road performances ringing in their ears after a desperate 6-2 loss at fellow title challengers Cardiff Devils.

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This weekend, however, it was the turn of Andrew Lord’s team to be feeling the pinch, losing out 7-3 at home to the Panthers on Saturday before suffering a 4-1 defeat at bottom club Coventry 24 hours later.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach Paul Thompson

It leaves the overall EIHL league standings looking a whole lot rosier for the Steelers, their two wins seeing them move up to third and now three points behind second-placed Cardiff with a game in hand.

Nottingham remain the team to catch, however, sitting two points clear of the Devils with two games in hand and and having also played a game less than the Steelers.

“They are always fully committed games against Nottingham and this was everything a Sheffield-Nottingham game should be,” said head coach Thompson.

“I thought it was a gutsy road performance and something that we needed. We’ve had our lumps recently and deservedly so because we haven’t put in performances like this enough – especially on the road. But we did here and the boys should take a lot of credit for that.”

[email protected] WE MET BEFORE? Steelers and Panthers players come to blows at the NIC. Picture supplied by Steelers via Karl Denham.

Rob Dowd opened and closed the scoring for the visitors, firing his team into a second-minute lead before sealing both points with an empty netter with just 18 seconds of the game remaining.

In between, the Steelers were the better team over the first 40 minutes, so much so that they carried a 4-1 lead into the third.

After Evan Mosey’s 14th-minute powerplay strike had cancelled out Dowd’s opener, the visitors ensured they controlled the second period with three unanswered strikes.

Defenceman Cullen Eddy restored his side’s lead at 21.40 with his second of the season, while Levi Nelson’s 12th of the campaign doubled the visitors’ advantage just over five minutes later.

It got better for Thompson’s team when a 5-on-3 powerplay strike from Fredrik Vestberg at 31.44 silenced the home contingent.

Panthers served notice of their intent to make a fight of it when Juraj Kolnik hit back to make it 4-2 at 43.09, but a first Steelers goal at 52.15 for former NHLer Guillaume Desbiens – who debuted against Coventry two days earlier – restored what appeared a comfortable lead for the visitors.

Far from it.

Roared on by a packed NIC, the Panthers again retaliated, helped in part when Steelers ran into penalty trouble of their own.

Firstly, the impressive Desbiens was called for hooking, with a tripping minor on goalie Marek Pinc following soon after. Panthers coach Cory Neilson took netminder Miika Wiikman off for a sixth attacker and it paid off when David Clarke scored at 56.35.

Less than a minute later it was a one-goal game again when Brad Moran found a way past Pinc with 155 seconds of regulation remaining.

But, with the hosts desperate for a leveller and Wiikman pulled again, it left the door open for Dowd to strike in the closing moments to extinguish any hope for the home side.

“I thought we played really well,” added Thompson. “It’s going to be nip and tuck all year against these guys. They are a quality team and we know that.

“I was pleased with everybody’s performance because it was a war out there at times tonight.”

Elite League, Sunday: Belfast Giants 1 Manchester Storm 3, Braehead Clan 3 Fife Flyers 0, Coventry Blaze 4 Cardiff Devils 1, Edinburgh Capitals 9 Dundee Stars 11, Nottingham Panthers 4 Sheffield Steelers 6.

Saturday: Cardiff Devils 3 Nottingham Panthers 7, Fife Flyers 3 Braehead Clan 2, Manchester Storm 4 Dundee Stars 6.

Friday: Dundee Stars 0 Fife Flyers 1, Sheffield Steelers 3 Coventry Blaze 2.