Despite leading for the majority of the match Coventry Blaze were unable to upset the league leaders, falling to a painful 6-5 defeat in overtime against Sheffield Steelers. Defeat leaves the Blaze eleven points above the playoff line, and in an increasingly narrow contest for fifth position in the standings with southernly rivals Guildford Flames.
Rounding off the Elite League’s inaugural Pride Weekend, both sides took to the ice wearing specially designed LGBTQ+ jerseys, reinforcing the league’s message that #HockeyIsForEveryone. Moments later the visitors had already found twine, through former-Blaze talisman Marc-Oliver Vallerand. Just twenty-one seconds into the clash, Vallerand evaded the attention of the scrambling Blaze defence, allowing the Canadian forward enough time to send a composed finish over the glove of CJ Motte in the Blaze net.
Janne Lakkonen created ample space for Luke Ferrara to send a low slap shot beyond the reach of Duba
Danny Stewart’s side, themselves in a fine vein of form, responded quickly, equalising just six minutes later through Dillion Eichstadt. As the atmosphere continued to build at the Skydome Arena, Coventry Blaze started to gain a stronger foothold in the match, winning possession of the puck in more dangerous areas on the ice. The pressure told just two minutes later, a drop pass from Janne Lakkonen created ample space for Luke Ferrara to send a low slap shot beyond the reach of Duba.
The opening period continued at a high intensity, with the travelling side resorting to dump-and-rush (sending long passes off the end boards for forwards to chase) in an effort to exert pressure on the Blaze defence, although neither side was able to re-light the lamp.
The first penalty of the evening was awarded against, Blaze netminder, CJ Motte for an acrobatic trip to prevent the Steelers from taking the lead. Tanner Eberle equalised for the visitors on the resulting powerplay, capitalising upon an untimely turnover from Stewart’s special unit.
The Blaze responded by scoring their best goal of the night, as Laakkonen broke into the Steelers’ zone, rounded the net and forced the puck against the post. The bouncing puck gifted Ferrara the perfect opportunity to slide a simple pass to the backdoor for Andrew Johnston to fire home unopposed.
Expect to see both sides in the post-season
The hosts continued to lead until penultimate minute of regulation time. With the empty net gapping at the other end of the ice, Lucas Sandstrom used his side’s numerical advantage to maximum effect, sending a powerful effort beyond Motte to send the game to overtime. It wasn’t to be for the hosts, despite forcing a fine stop from Duba moments earlier, Nikolai Lemtyugov’s skill on the puck proved too hot to handle. Lemtyugov’s deke and one-handed finish into the Blaze net sent the travelling fans into raptures.
Coventry Blaze will feel they had done enough to have won match in regulation time, but the Steelers’ dogged fightback in the dying embers proved once again what the EIHL standings have been implying for months. Sheffield Steelers, top of the tree at Christmas, are a force to be reckoned with this season. The Blaze, however, have much to proud of in 2020, having made huge progress over the off-season: expect to see both sides in the post-season.