Cardiff Devils suffered in Sheffield and they remain two wins from clinching the Elite League title.
Sheffield’s ‘Moose’ – goalie Ervins Mustukovs – produced a sizzling performance between the pipes to deny Devils, saving 48 of the 50 shots fired at him.
Welshman Jonathan Phillips scored a shorthanded empty net goal 16 seconds from the buzzer to complete a 5-2 Sheffield Steelers win.
Devils hit the Sheffield pipework for a third time in the match and the home team broke for Phillips to slot in.
Injured goalie Ben Bowns was again missing from the Devils team with Thomas Murdy between the pipes and young Cardiff Fire netminder Ryan Lewis on the bench.
Murray, who shutout Edinburgh on Saturday, was again in good form, while Devils are hopeful Bowns will be ready to return in midweek when Steelers visit Ice Arena Wales.
Tyson Strachan was thrown out on a match penalty for checking to the head and will miss Wednesday’s return with Steelers, while Zach Fitzgerald was given a game penalty for abuse of officials.
Remarkably, Devils outshot their hosts 19-7 in the first, 17-13 in the second and 50-27 overall, but Steelers put on something of a defensive masterclass.
Their penalty kill was hugely effective, keeping Devils at bay during nine powerplays.
It was a match which could have gone either way and Sheffield coach Paul Thompson said: “I’m proud of the boys and loved the battle levels they achieved, the way we got onto second pucks.
“Moose (Mustukovs) was outstanding and our PK was something else.
“Devils are a great team with high quality players. They have the number one PP in the league because they have the best quarterbacks on the blueline.”
Steelers were outshot 19-7 over the first 20 minutes, but man of the match Colton Fretter scored the only goal after eight minutes.
Mike Fransilla hit a fierce shot into the Devils net just over five minutes into the second period, before Strachan netted for Cardiff just over a minute later.
Only 14 seconds later, though, the former NHL defenceman was ejected for checking to the head and Steelers had a five-minute powerplay.
Steelers took full advantage with Fretter netting his second 71 seconds into the powerplay before British starlet Liam Kirk tipped in to make it 4-1 27 seconds later.
Those goals during the Strachan penalty were decisive, but Devils pulled one back through Joey Martin after 33 minutes 51 seconds.
Cardiff hit back over the second half of the match, but there was no way past Mustukovs on the night and Steelers had the last word with Phillips’ empty netter.
Second-placed Manchester Storm won 3-2 against Braehead Clan in overtime to keep their title hopes alive. Devils still need two wins from six matches o be crowned champions – if Storm win all of their remaining five fixtures.
Manchester still have to play Cardiff away and that match is on Wednesday, March 21.
Remaining Devils fixtures:
Wednesday 14 v Sheffield Steelers H (7.30pm)
Friday 16 v Belfast Giants A (7pm)
Saturday 17 No game
Sunday 18 v Sheffield Steelers H (6pm)
Wednesday 21 v Manchester Storm H (7.30pm)
Saturday 24 v Belfast Giants H (7pm)
Sunday 25 v MK Lightning H (6pm)
Match stats v Sheffield Steelers
Scorers, Steelers: Colton Fretter 2+1, Miika Fransilla 1+0, Liam Kirk 1+0, Jonathan Phillips 1+0, Scott Aarssen 0+2, Andreas Valdix 0+1, Robert Dowd 0+2, Mark Matheson 0+2.
Devils: Tyson Strachan 1+0, Joey Martin 1+1, Josh Batch 0+1, Gleason Fournier 0+1, Matt Pope 0+1.
Period scores (Steelers first): 1-0; 3-2 (4-2); 1-0 (5-2).
Shots on goal: Steelers (on Murdy) 7+13+7=27; Devils (on Mustukovs) 19+17+14=50.
Penalties in minutes: Sheffield Steelers 57 minutes on 14 infractions, Cardiff Devils 42 minutes on 8 infractions
Powerplays: Steelers 2/5; Devils 0/9.
Referee: Tom Darnell and Stefan Hogarth.
Stars of the game: Steelers, Colton Fretter; Devils, Joey Martin.
Sunday results: Sheffield Steelers 5, Cardiff Devils 2; Belfast Giants 6, Nottingham Panthers 4; Braehead Clan 2, Manchester Storm 3 (overtime); Coventry Blaze 3, Guildford Flames 2; Dundee Stars 9, MK Lightning 4; Edinburgh Capitals 5, Fife Flyers 8.
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