Play-Off Final: Sheffield Steelers 1 Cardiff Devils 3
Sheffield Steelers - a club always likely to do the unlikely - finally ran out of surprises.
As Play Off Final underdogs against Cardiff, they couldn’t repeat the win they managed against the odds a year earlier when they beat the then-Grand Slam hunters in double overtime.
At Nottingham Arena on Sunday, the form book stayed away from the window and Sheffield fans have to accept a season without silverware.
Cardiff, League and Conference champions were hunting a treble. But Steelers matched them every stride in a first period where quality chances were sparse.
The Welsh, enjoying the support of anti-Steeler ‘neutrals’ had trouble handling Levi Nelson - the winger making trademark dashes towards goal - and Colton Fretter.
Sheffield had one less import forward on show after recalling d-man Miika Franssila, and had a dizzying variety of rotations up front.
But the best chance fell to Patrick Asselin, the Devils’ strong shot glove-saved expertly by goalie Ervins Mustukovs.
The netminder allowed a big rebound from a Josh Batch drive but the puck was cleared.
The orange clad fans got behind Sheffield, particularly when Zack Fitzgerald skated on.
Yet their team went behind in a middle period -and there was controversy over the goal.
Tim Wallace was struck in the face by a high stick on a Devils Power Play (Ben O’Connor hooking 24:08) but the officials ignored it.
Devils swept up the ice and Matt Pope scored from Joey Martin, 45 seconds later.
Sheffield were rattled, Dowd and Nelson skated into each other and Joonas Ronnberg shooting the puck into Nelson.
Belatedly, Steelers earned a Power Play at 29:55 but Devils’ diamond formation of killers blocked up the middle, Dowd managing one slapshot on Bowns.
John Armstrong had a chance from close-range but couldn’t find a gap in Bown’s defence and then Andrew Hotham, unassisted, doubled the Welsh lead.
Steelers needed to dominate the third period like they did in the semi against Nottingham.
They threatened on several occasions before the dam burst at 46;55, bustling winger Eric Neiley thumping home for 1-2.
Andreas Valdix came within inches of equalising, but Devils showed composure by keeping puck possession away from their goal and with 17 seconds left, added an empty-netter from Joey Haddad.