COVENTRY Blaze lost ground on the Elite Ice Hockey League play-offs after consecutive defeats over the weekend to Cardiff Devils and Sheffield Steelers.
The Blaze were ousted 4-2 on Sunday night by the Steelers at the Skydome Arena, despite going close to a comeback after trailing 3-0 from the opening two periods.
Justin Hache returned after a two-game suspension but Dillion Lawrence and Jake Hensen missed out through injury.
Sheffield made inroads to victory when Taner Eberle struck an opener on 3.49 following a turn-over, doubled by Eric Neiley’s shot at the far post (18.56).
It was mid-way through the second period when the scoreline was next added to, Neiley notching his second during a powerplay (37.42) – following Ross Venus’ two-minute sanction for impeding an opponent.
Coventry finally made a breakthrough in the final twenty when Alex Nikiforuk smashed the puck home past Croatian Ivan Puzic – equalling Blaze’s club record of 13 consecutive home games with at least a point.
Matt Hackett was thrown forward as an extra attacker during a 5-on-3 powerplay, during which time Nikiforuk’s second drew Blaze back into contention (56.49).
But they were caught out with numbers, including goalkeeper Hackett, committed forward – Jonas Westerling finding the net from his own defensive area (57.57).
A scrap between Ben Lake and Eberle in the closing seconds earns the respective players bans of at least five games, whilst Blaze’s Kevin Morris and Neiley also received two-minute penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Head coach Danny Stewart put his side’s loss down to their energy-sapping performance against the league leaders the previous night.
“This group has been pretty good at picking themselves up after tough defeats, and tough periods, and coming out with a little bit of fight back, but I don’t think we dusted ourselves off very well from Saturday night. That was evident in the first period.
“We lacked a little bit of energy tonight.”
Saturday night had seen the Blaze push Cardiff Devils all the way, but were eventually made to pay for conceding with two minutes left to play in their 6-5 loss.
The visiting Blaze took a shock lead on 8.05 through Shawn Pauly and sought to defend deeper in numbers to protect their first period lead.
Mike Hedden’s leveller (22.18) was quickly overturned by quick-fire strikes by Ben Lake (22.47) and Tim Crowder (23.10) – assisted by Lake, turned the tide very much in Coventry’s favour.
The Devils would show their class though and tied the game through Joey Martin (24.52 and 35.08 on the powerplay), before Gleason Fournier’s speculative effort (37.49) put them in front.
Lake pulled Blaze level with his 28th of the season (38.55) before the period end.
Hedden put Devils 5-4 in front on 44.12, only for Chris Joyaux to peg them back on 45.21.
A late powerplay would be Coventry’s downfall when Devils skipper Jake Morissette broke through and swept home on 57.59 to win the tie by a single goal.
Next weekend sees Blaze head to Fife Flyers on Saturday (7:15pm) before the return leg against the Sheffield Steelers on Sunday (5:15pm) at the Skydome.