Late rally not enough for Blaze in Steelers defeat
Two late goals from Alex Nikiforuk were not enough to stop the Sheffield Steelers spoiling Genting Casino Coventry Blaze Head Coach Danny Stewart’s 40th birthday by beating the home side 2-4 at the Skydome Arena.
The Blaze welcomed back Canadian defenceman Justin Hache from a two-game suspension but were missing injured forwards Dillon Lawrence and Jake Hansen. Back-up netminder Jordan Hedley was also missing through injury, with NIHL Blaze netminder Graham Laverick backing up Matt Hackett. Sheffield were without GB international forward Robert Dowd.
The Steelers took the lead early in the first period through a wrap-around from Tanner Eberle at 3.49 after the Blaze turned the puck over in the neutral zone. They then doubled their lead as the period was winding down when Eric Neiley fired home at the back door at 18.56.
Both teams had chances in the middle twenty, but the period remained scoreless until Neiley fired home his second of the night at 37.42 on the powerplay, after Ross Venus had been given a two-minute penalty for interference.
Coventry finally broke the shutout halfway through the third period when Nikiforuk fired home a pass from Croatian defenceman Ivan Puzic. The goal saw Nikiforuk equal the Blaze club record of 13 consecutive home games with at least a point.
With Coventry finding themselves on a 5-on-3 powerplay late in the game, Head Coach Danny Stewart pulled netminder Hackett for the extra attacker and the move paid dividends when Nikiforuk scored his second of the night at 56.49.
Stewart then pulled Hackett again in search of the equalising goal, but instead it was the Steelers who found the net, with Jonas Westerling scoring from his own defensive end into the empty net at 57.57.
As the clock ran down on a 2-4 final scoreline, tempers boiled over, with Blaze forward Ben Lake and Eberle both receiving five plus game penalties for fighting at 59.51. Coventry Captain Kevin Morris and Neiley also both received two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for their role in the melee.