Blaze miss out on Elite League playoffs
Genting Casino Coventry Blaze missed out on a place in the Elite League post-season playoffs for the first time in their history following a 4-1 defeat to the Sheffield Steelers at the Sheffield Arena.
Coventry went into the game missing defenceman Marc Cantin whilst their opponents were without Mike Ratchuk and young British pair Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra. Ervins Mustukovs got the start between the home sides pipes after missing Steelers' victory in Nottingham on Friday night.
The opening twenty minutes was a special teams battle, Blaze killing two but failing to take advantage of their three powerplay opportunities. Top goal-scorer against the Steelers, Matt Marquardt (5) came the closest to opening the first period scoring, ringing Mustukovs' cross-bar.
With Blaze needing Nottingham Panthers to beat Manchester Storm to stand any chance of a playoff spot, Robert Dowd hit the opener for Sheffield (21.33) just seconds after Storm took a 1-0 lead in Altrincham.
Coventry though pushed back, out-shooting their opponents through two periods. Ashley Tait with a quick shot, assisted by T.J.Syner from behind the net tied the game 1-1 at 32.43.
As the teams entered the ice for the third period, news of a Nottingham equaliser filtered through to the Sheffield Arena lifting the Blaze's playoff hopes.
Two further quick goals in Manchester, one for each side came before John Armstrong gave Steelers a 2-1 lead (47.14). The 6'3" Canadian, who later picked up the Man of the Match award for the home side then proved pivotal to a Sheffield third. Driving to the net, Armstrong was bundled on top of Blaze goalie Brian Stewart leaving Colton Fretter to tap home into a wide-open net for 3-1 (47.48).
The final nail in the coffin came at 50.40 with Mathieu Roy registering for a final score of 4-1. With defeat in Sheffield, the Panthers win in Manchester on penalty-shots, a game cut short following problems with the ice, proved irrelevant as Blaze missed the Elite League playoffs for the first time in their history.
The game was not the way long-serving Great Britain International Russell Cowley would have wanted to end his successful playing career. The all-time appearance leader for Coventry signing off with a Man of the Match of the award and a standing ovation from the fans in attendance.
Head Coach Danny Stewart said, "On the game for two periods we played some of our best hockey of the year. It was unfortunate in the third, we made an individual error and they go up 2-1. Then, from what I've seen a whistle was blown on the third one but the goal was allowed to stand. But I don't want this to sound like sour grapes. I just said to the guys, there's no one to blame but ourselves. We put ourselves in this position by not finding the consistency throughout the season."