Sheffield Steelers were deservedly beaten by a much-improved Nottingham Panthers team today.
The 3-2 loss is a blow to pride, but more importantly to the chase to record a third straight championship.
Paul Thompson said it was the worst game of hockey he’d coached since being at Steelers.
He said he had no reason for the failings, especially considering his team have had the visitors’ number for most of the season.
But he gave Panthers credit for being the better team.
He said he felt for families of players who had flown across the world to witness what turned out to be a poor show.
Logan MacMillan put the Boxing Day game in Notts’ favour at 5;21.
And a long five-on three penalty threatened more goals - netminder Ervins Mustukovs closing the door.
After a difficult start, Steelers started to express themselves more offensively.
Panthers’ goalie Miika Wiikman’s crease was a busy place to be - but Steelers could not convert chances.
And the four home attacking lines were not always supporting the man with the puck.
And Nottingham, organised and aggressive, went in at the first interval good value for the lead, although in shots it had been a 12-12 tie.
The question is whether they could sustain the advantage in an Arena they have struggled in, previously.
Forty seven seconds into the middle section an exquisite backhander from Mathieu Roy made it 1-1.
Quality chances and good forechecking from both sides ensured the delicate balance remained for the rest of the session.
A big last period was needed for Steelers, who travel to the NIC tomorrow.
But it was Nottingham who grasped the nettle.
Robert Lachowicz scored after a concentrated period of pressure at 47.11.
And as Steelers poured forward, they were caught cold.
New signing Jason Williams, who had been barely visible until the 55th minute, was released through the middle to beat Mustukovs on a one-on-one.
While Jesse Schultz narrowed it to 2-3 with 78 seconds left, honours went to Corey Neilson.