COVENTRY BLAZE took a huge step towards defending their Elite League Playoff championships on Saturday night when defeating league champions Sheffield.
After finishing eighth in the regular season, Blaze were forced to face Sheffield after the Yorkshire side won the league title in Fife last weekend.
A huge crowd responded to Chuck Weber’s call to pack the Skydome as an estimated 3,000 fans provided the setting for the most dramatic hockey Coventry has seen.
It proved to be a game of two halves as Blaze struggled to create opportunities in the concluding 30 minutes, whilst Sheffield experienced similar issues in the opening one and a half periods.
Chuck Weber’s men took the early lead as Brett Robinson beat Steelers netminder Marek Pinc for speed with just three minutes on the clock.
Blaze doubled their lead shortly before the end of the first period as Cale Tanaka tapped home a scrambled puck to put Coventry 2-0 up.
Coventry added two more goals to their tally just six minutes into the second period as Chris Bruton and Carl Lauzon, who played with a severely swollen eye following an incident in last week’s game against Manchester, made it 4-0.
Kevin Noble then sent the Skydome into raptures when slamming home a fifth goal – beating Pinc in all departments – to put the Blaze five goals ahead with less than half the game played.
Sheffield had something to cheer about as Fredrik Vestberg broke away to open the Steelers’ account.
Two further goals from Robert Dowd and then Desbiens with just minutes remaining set up a tense second leg tomorrow in Sheffield where the Blaze must lose by a goal at minimum to qualify for next week’s playoff finals weekend.
Post-game, Blaze head coach Chuck Weber told The Observer that tomorrow’s second leg will provide a “crazy environment” after confirming that goaltender Brian Stewart will be fine following a knock.
He added: “We got off to a great start tonight and kept our composure early on.
“The first and second periods were fantastic – and we knew they’d push us hard in the third.
“We attacked the hard areas and Chris Bruton in particular produced tonight, he’s a performer and can produce for us offensively which is huge.
“There’s plenty of cuts and bruises for both sides tonight but our boys can rest up in June, July and August – it’s a massive game tomorrow and though we go to Sheffield with a two goal advantage we’re approaching the game with a mentality that the scores are level.”