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Manchester Phoenix 4 - 4 Sheffield Steelers
Sheffield win 9-8 on aggregate
A sell-out crowd over 2,150 created an unbelievable atmosphere in the Altrincham Ice Dome despite seeing the Manchester Phoenix bow out of the playoffs in another pulsating game against the Sheffield Steelers.
Trailing by just one goal from the first leg played in Sheffield on Friday night, Phoenix wanted to score early to put pressure on the Steelers and they got the perfect start as Luke Stauffacher somehow fired the puck past Jody Lehman from a seemingly impossible angle as early as the third minute. Sheffield however didn't panic and regained the aggregate lead less than two minutes later with Dan Tessier netting from close range. Friday nights game had seen tensions run high on a number of occasions and Sunday's game was no less taut with a spate on penalties before Sheffield added a second goal just past the nine minute mark. Tessier appeared to skating into a blind alley on the right wing and fired the puck on net more in hope than true expectation, but the puck evaded Scott Fankhouser in the Phoenix goal to nestle in the back of his goal. Now down by two goals on aggregate, Phoenix went back on the offensive and leading scorer Joe Tallari brought the home support to its feet in the 12th minute firing high into the net on the pass from Tony Hand. Phoenix then failed to capitalise on a two-man advantage to send the teams to the first interval tied on the night.
Sean Starke saw an early second period shot hit the Steelers goalpost before a further bout of penalties saw Phoenix fail to make the most of three powerplay opportunities, a failing that was to cost them dearly. With Sheffield finally back to full strength, they hit the Phoenix with two goals just 56 seconds apart. Joe Talbot restored the Steelers lead on the night in the 32nd minute before Warren Tait stuffed a short range effort through Fankhouser to open up a three-goal aggregate lead. Once again, Phoenix refused to buckle and Jeff MacMillan scored a vital third marker in the 35th minute to give the home side hope entering the third period.
Phoenix had been heavily outshot in the second period and they came out determined to re-dress that imbalance in the game. Scott Basiuk and Tallari both saw shots saved before a bizarre goal pulled Phoenix level on the night. Stauffacher worked the puck down low for Sean Starke and his shot to net appeared to go in off a Sheffield defenceman just before the 45-minute mark. Phoenix were now in the ascendency and Sheffield had Lehman to thank for some excellent saves as the atmosphere reached another level of intensity and deafening noise. With time running out, Phoenix used their timeout to pull goalie Scott Fankhouser, but the addition of the extra skater was not enough to force another goal that would have brought overtime.
Phoenix player coach Tony Hand smiled ruefully afterwards as he said, "I can't fault the effort again, the guys sweated blood tonight. We conceded a couple of bad goals, but we fought back well and that's credit on the guys. It's been a tough year and to lose out a trip to the playoff finals is tough also. Sheffield are a good team and to lose out by just one goal over 17 in two games shows how well we played over the two legs."
Steelers coach Dave Matsos echoed similar sentiments saying, "that was a heck of a playoff series - no quarter asked, no quarter given and for both games to have been so competitive and close is a credit to both sets of players. Naturally, we delighted to be going to Nottingham next week, but I've congratulated Tony for the way in which Manchester made it such a great 120 minutes of hockey."