Title blow: Sheffield Steelers 2-3 Braehead Clan (OT)
Steelers were beaten in overtime tonight after their goal output suddenly dried up.
They went behind 2-0 to Braehead, were level after 19 minutes, but then couldn’t summon up another strike.
While they get a point from overtime, it is an awkward result to say the least for a team chasing Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils for the Elite League title - both of those sides winning their games.
It puts Sheffield under enormous pressure to win in south Wales tomorrow evening.
The champions were without the suspended Jace Coyle - and there were some obvious defensive issues tonight - but visiting Clan had two imports and two Brits out of action.
The South Yorkshire outfit could have taken the lead when a penalty shot was awarded but Clan goalie Michal Zajkowski saved Guillaume Desbiens at 1;56.
The iceSheffield side were made to pay for that failure to execute.
Mike Hammond found himself alone with only Ervins Mustukovs to beat, dancing round the goalie and coolly converting.
Assists went to Matt Beca and Scott Pitt at 2:37.
A stick check from Mustukovs stopped Matt Keith adding another.
A defensive blunder with Steelers third line on gave Clan a second, at 6.20, Pitt shooting low into the corner.
John Armstrong came close for Sheffield, shooting into the side netting on 10 minutes.
Centreman Yared Hagos was the victim of a nasty hit on the boards at 11.15 - the Swede has not had a lot of luck with injuries since joining the club - and was in obvious distress as he went back to the dressing room.
Alex Leavitt received two minutes for boarding, the game’s first Power Play from which Colton Fretter scored, at 12;07.
Steelers pressed but Beca and Keith both had quality efforts on the home goal.
With a minute of the period remaining Andreas Valdix levelled - both Steelers goals owing much to Ben O’Connor’s offensive instincts.
Desbiens was saved on a breakaway five minutes into a highly-competitive and sometimes scrappy middle period.
Christoffer Bjorklund thudded a shot into the goalie’s chest too.
Too many passes, from both sides, were going astray and the scoreboard had nothing to show for the middle section of the game.
Midway through the last session, a Pitt interference penalty, handed Sheffield an opportunity to go ahead for the first time, but they couldn’t get past Clan’s rearguard.
The goals dried up and the match drifted into overtime, which was won within 19 seconds by Beca, a threat all night for the Scots.
The OT loss meant Steelers went into Sunday’s Cardiff match six points behind them, with a single game in hand.
*Belfast Giants could be members of the Elite League’s northern conference, next season.
Milton Keynes Lightning are to join in the Elite League, the highest level of professional ice hockey in Britain, for 2017-18 season.
And in late February a decision is likely on whether another southern team Guildford Flames fit the criteria to join the big boys. They have applied and are undergoing due diligence.
This means the present two Conferences will have 12 teams - the majority fitting the bill for the more southerly division.
So it is deemed likely that Belfast, who you could argue could fit in either category, are the best choice to make the move to the Gardiner division.
Some of their fans might think points are easier to come by in the northern Conference - but Braehead certainkly haven’t always had their own way.
Belfast, if they do opt out of the Erhardt table, would join Clan, Fife Flyers, Manchester Storm, Edinburgh Capitals and Dundee Stars.
Saturday 21st January
Belfast Giants 6 Dundee Stars 0
Coventry Blaze 5 Cardiff Devils 7
Fife Flyers 4 Manchester Storm 3 (OT)
Sheffield Steelers 2 Braehead Clan 3 (OT)
Sunday 22nd January
Cardiff Devils v Sheffield Steelers – 6.00pm
Dundee Stars v Coventry Blaze – 6.30pm
Edinburgh Capitals v Manchester Storm – 6.00pm
Nottingham Panthers v Fife Flyers – 4.00pm