By Kris Smith
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Game 21: Coventry Blaze 6 Manchester Storm 3
The first match took place on Saturday afternoon and it was the replay of the opening fixture of the Elite Series, where Manchester were overtime winners.
However, it was Coventry who took the first lead of the game through Ross Venus on 7 minutes with a powerplay goal before Tristan Keck made it 2-0 to the Blaze with a shorthanded effort in the final minute of the first period.
Although, the Storm came out swinging in the middle stanza and smashed three goals past Shane Owen.
Dallas Ehrhardt bagged the first on the halfway mark of 30 minutes and then Jacob Lundell Noer tied the game on 33 minutes, before Ben Lake gave Manchester their first lead of the night.
Despite the second period dominance from Manchester, Danny Stewart’s side put on a dominant display of their own in the third session.
Simen Andre Edvardsen drew the West Midlands club level after 49 minutes before David Clements beat Sean Bonar to make it 4-3, with a powerplay goal on the 53-minute mark.
Less than two minutes later, Keck bagged his second goal and once again moved the Blaze two goals ahead, before he then went on to complete his hat-trick via an empty net goal with only eight seconds remaining.
Game 22: Sheffield Steelers 4 Nottingham Panthers 5 OT
Saturday evening was then the turn of the Steelers and the Panthers to renew rivalries, with Sheffield only needing one point to secure their 1st place finish.
It was not unusual to see Aaron Fox’s side take an early lead and Tanner Eberle was the man to fire them 1-0 ahead after just 12 seconds of play.
After combining with Liam Kirk and Josef Mikyska for the first goal, the trio then repeated their feat, seven minutes with Eberle beating Ben Bowns for a second time.
However, in the 11th minute, Sheffield went 3-0 ahead but it was Kirk scoring this time, with Eberle and Mikyska setting him up.
Nottingham finally found some traction and when given a powerplay, took their chance to get off the mark, with Brett Perlini shooting past Ben Churchfield after 14 minutes.
The Panthers continued their fight back in the second period and Auston Cangelosi’s effort also beat Bowns to bring them within one-goal at the halfway mark, before Oliver Betteridge drew them level in the final minute of the session.
However, Eberle provided another early goal to put the Steelers back in front and he once again combined with Mikyska and Kirk on 44 minutes, giving all three players a four-point night.
Despite another quick start by the Yorkshire club, Dominic Talbot-Tassi punished Sheffield’s ill-discipline with another powerplay goal in the 49th minute.
With the score still locked at 4-4 after 60 minutes, overtime was required to find a winner but this time it was Nottingham who made the quick and clinical start.
Christophe Boivin beat Bowns after just 17 seconds of extra time and that secured two huge points for the Panthers and lifted them off of the foot of the table, but also confirmed Sheffield as the number one seed for the playoffs.
Game 23: Nottingham Panthers 4 Coventry Blaze 3 OT
Sunday afternoon brought the final regular season matches for Nottingham and Coventry and it was a must win for both sides, as they continued to jostle for positioning in the standings.
The opening goal came from Luke Ferrara in the 15th minute, as he converted an early powerplay chance for the Blaze.
Despite a good start from the Blaze, Nottingham hit back with an equaliser 24 seconds later, as Christophe Boivin beat Shane Owen but their hopes of entering the first break on level terms were dashed by Mike Hammond’s powerplay marker in the final minute of the first stanza.
Oliver Betteridge then tied the game up once more, with his effort sneaking past Owen on 24 minutes but Danny Stewart’s Blaze would get back in front once more via David Clements 36th minute strike.
The game entered the final period and went without a goal for a while, just as they entered the critical and dying moments, Kevin Domingue popped up and scored a third equaliser.
For the second night in a row, the Panthers headed into overtime but again struck quickly to seal the win, as Mark Matheson had plenty of time and space to beat Owen up high after 97 seconds of play in the extra period.
Game 24: Manchester Storm 3 Sheffield Steelers 5
The final match of the round robin tournament saw the Storm meet the Steelers and if Sheffield won, it would mean the two sides would meet again in the Playoff Semi-Finals.
This game began like many others, with a first-minute goal opening the scoring and it came from Kevin Schulze, as he netted after just 33 seconds of play.
Although, Aaron Fox’s men did not have the lead for long, as Tyson Fawcett bagged the equaliser in the fourth minute.
Despite, being pegged back early on, Liam Kirk was on hand to restore the Steelers lead after nine minutes but the Storm again answered back within three minutes, as Ciarang Long scored on the powerplay to make it 2-2.
In the second period, Sheffield turned up the tempo and found their third go-ahead-goal in the 27th minute and Jonathan Phillips was the one to beat Sean Bonar.
10 minutes after they took the lead, the Steelers finally had some breathing room as Sam Jones converted on the powerplay to make it 4-2 and the Yorkshire club held that lead going into the final period.
Both teams knew the next goal was crucial to deciding the outcome and it went the way of Manchester, as captain Dallas Ehrhardt brought his side within after 48 minutes.
However, a late empty net goal by Phillips confirmed the win for Sheffield and meant that the Steelers would meet the Altrincham side again on Tuesday in the playoffs.
1. Sheffield Steelers V 4. Manchester Storm
2. Coventry Blaze V 3. Nottingham Panthers
Tuesday 27 April: Coventry V Nottingham FO: 5pm
Tuesday 27 April: Manchester V Sheffield FO: 8:30pm
Wednesday 28 April: Nottingham V Coventry FO: 7pm
Thursday 29 April: Coventry V Nottingham FO: 7pm
(Featured Picture: Scott Wiggins)