By Richard Wright
The Sheffield Steelers reached the final of the Challenge Cup through a convincing win against the defending champions Nottingham Panthers. In the end it was a surprisingly easy game for the Steelers as they edged out their competition in all three periods.
The Steelers are now on their way to Cardiff for the final on Sunday, March 5, where they will face the Cardiff Devils at the Ice Arena Wales.
The Panthers went into the second leg 2-1 down, so a better, more forceful approach was expected, but fell absent.
The Steelers vs. Panthers round two, had that big game feel about it, the atmosphere was at a peak.From the off, it was a hard-hitting, rough game. However, the hosts edged the first period and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission as the Panthers failed to test the Sheffield goal.
First leg Nottingham goal scorer Stephen Schultz seemed like the only danger to the Steelers goal, however, the big Latvian international Ervīns Muštukovs, was on top form once again and proved difficult to beat in goal.
Both sides made poor errors and gave the puck away several times, some leading to promising counteracting chances.
The second period was overshadowed by the fighting that ensued from a hard check from Panther’s Jeff Brown on Zack Fitzgerald, which battered him into the boards. Brown was shown the red card and kicked out of the game while Fitzgerald was unable to continue until the third period.
By the third period it was all Steelers, until another chance fell to Schultz, he rattled the post which lead to a counter by the Steelers, and they were able to finish the game off by scoring, just minutes before Nelson put the Panthers out of their misery with 33 seconds to go, scoring a well executed individual effort to make it 5-1 on aggregate.
In the end, the Panthers couldn’t score once on the night and needed to apply the pressure earlier on in the game to make any kind of impact. This also meant Muštukovs was credited with back to back shutouts.
Sheffield Steelers Head Coach Paul Thomson said in the post-match interview: “Really pleased, back to back shutouts, I think tactically, we got it really right tonight”, but then added, “I think he could have had four or five shutouts, we’ve let him down a little bit in the last minute of games”.
You wait nearly a year for Sheffield Steelers to get a shutout & then they get shutouts in 2 games in a row. We can win that cup this season
— Paul Day (@Paulie09) February 14, 2017
Fans are now looking forward to what the Steelers can do in the final after easing past such difficult opposition.