By Kris Smith
The Stars claimed a crucial 4-1 win in Kirkcaldy last Sunday, moving them into the playoff spots and four points clear of the next team, Manchester Storm.
The ninth-placed Storm have played 38 games, which is three more than Dundee and the Scots also have played two games less than Guildford Flames, who currently occupy sixth position and sit three points ahead of Dundee on 34.
If the Stars can capitalise on their games in hand, they can put themselves in healthy position to be competing for place in the top half of the 10-team table and this weekend is a prime opportunity for the Taysiders.
Omar Pacha’s men have been locked in close battles all season-long with Sheffield and from four games so far, only one has been decided by a deficit of more than one goal.
Despite only winning once against the Steelers, the Stars have been proud of their efforts against the frontrunners and their ability to limit the league’s highest scoring team.
Aaron Fox’s men also played their last game in Kirkcaldy and were on the losing side of 5-3 score line in Fife on Wednesday night.
Robert Dowd (2) and John Armstrong found the net for Sheffield but they would fall to a deadly Flyers powerplay that punished them with three goals in the third period.
Kyle Thacker, Brandon Magee, Jonas Emmerdahl and Jacob Benson (2) all got in on the scoring in what was a redemption performance from Fife after they failed to match the Stars in a Tayside Derby, three days prior.
Sebastian Bengtsson, Charlie Combs (2) and Gabriel Desjardins had powered Dundee into a healthy lead throughout the game and despite Matt Carter’s late strike against his former club, the Flyers were easily beaten.
The Stars now need to string some wings together to gain some traction in their playoff push and the last time they met the Steelers, it was a nine-goal thriller at the Utilita Arena.
Tanner Eberle had the hosts ahead after 23 minutes but Toms Rutkis and Combs soon had Dundee in front, but the Steelers would regain the lead after 40 minutes.
Evan Mosey and Eberle’s penalty shot made it 3-2 to the Yorkshire club and the score would continue to change a Philippe Sanche drew the visitors level.
Then, Adrian Saxrud Danielsen put the Steelemen back in front, only for Rutkis to score once more and make it a tie game at 4-4.
However, a controversial goal that was deflected in by the skates of Matias Sointu proved to be the winner for Sheffield.
American forward, Combs and Steelers forward, Eberle have the most goals in this fixture during this campaign, as the pair have each netted three times – with Combs scoring a goal in each of the last three games.
Sheffield have also strengthened their line-up ahead of this weekend’s double header with the addition of HC Innsbruck pair, Nico Feldner and Antonin Boruta.
The Austria forward and Czech defender have joined the English outfit on loan for the rest of the season and are expected to make their debuts in Sheffield on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, the Stars are set to have a full line-up available for this weekend and spare import Alexandre Ranger will be the only player not available for selection as he continues to recover from injury.
Speaking ahead of their back-to-back clash with the Steelers, Stars Head Coach, Pacha said: “Sheffield will be a tough challenge over the course of the weekend.
“They got a tough result in Fife during the week and I am sure they will be hungry to redeem themselves at home.
“But, it will also be a good opportunity and matchup for our guys against a potential opponent in the playoffs – because who knows where they are going to finish or where we are going to finish.”
He continued: “The last time we played them we lost in a really tight game on the road but we had played a solid road game, so if we play the same way, we will have a chance to get the two points.
“Then in our last game against them at home, I thought we outplayed and outworked them to get the win.
“These are two teams who are hungry to get the two points for different reasons.
“We want to go there with the mindset of winning and every game has been so close, especially the first one this season, that was extremely close and I felt we deserved better and in the last game we deserved better too.
“I think the guys like playing in Sheffield, it is a great atmosphere then we come home and then coming back home in front of our fans and last week, we did not play great at home against Guildford, so that will be a bit of retribution in front our four crowd.”
Dundee defenseman, Kyle Haas then added: “I believe all the momentum starts in practice during the week leading up to the games on the weekend.
“Our practice has been really sharp this week, which will translate well to the first game on Saturday.
“The boys also have confidence from the past couple games that we have played against the Steelers, as we feel as a collective that we match up well against them.”
“We cannot really think about that because we cannot control the way they play, we can only control the way we play.
“We know we will have to out work them and make them play the type of physical game, they do not want to play.”
The Canadian blueliner then discussed the differences between playing the same team back-to-back, compared to their usual two opponents over a weekend.
He said: “In some ways it does make it easier because we will not have to do two separate video meeting preparations for two different teams in the same weekend.
“There is always a chance that both teams can change their systems for the second game which can test your adaptability as a team during the game, but in the end it comes down to whatever team wants it more.
“We are confident playing against Sheffield because we know what we must do to give ourselves the best chance of winning.
“That is to do all the small things right and make them play a game they do not want to play.
“We are going to have to be willing to put our bodies on the line, like we did the last time we won against them.”
Face-off times for this weekend’s matches are 7pm on Saturday in Sheffield and 5pm on Sunday at the Dundee Ice Arena.