Leeds Chiefs remain alive as Patrik Valcak hat-trick sinks Sheffield Steeldogs
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For the third time in as many weeks Leeds Chiefs went into overtime at Elland Road. For the third time they came out on top.
It would be tempting to accuse the Chiefs of almost doing it deliberately, as part of some elaborate ploy to get their steadily growing fanbase to come back in even greater numbers, convincing them that this really is the only way to win hockey games.
Patrik Valcak was the hero on this occasion, the Czech Republic forward orchestrating what turned out to be the game-winner and his hat-trick goal, just under two minutes in for a 5-4 triumph.
But it should never really have got to that stage, the Chiefs having rallied superbly, particularly in the third period, to come from 2-0 down to put themselves 4-2 ahead with just over five minutes of regulation remaining.
But as they did against Hull Pirates last weekend, they allowed their opponents back in - although nothing like so late in the game.
The Steeldogs first halved the deficit through a Nathan Salem power play strike with just over four minutes remaining before Alex Graham levelled after a short scramble in front of the Chiefs’ net with 58.12 on the clock.
But Valcak proved to be the man for the big occasion, keeping possession before rounding to drive down the middle into the Steeldogs’ zone, firing his shot off the back boards before being the quickest to react to the rebound and backhanding the puck towards the net where the diving Dimitri Zimozdra could only parry it over the line.
Having lost 2-0 the previous night on the road at Basingstoke Bison, the Chiefs had gone into the game knowing a win was vital to their fading playoff hopes.
The hosts had started the brighter of the two teams, who had contested the first-ever game at the Elland Road rink back on January 31, with the Steeldogs spoiling the home team’s party with a disciplined 4-1 win.
The lively Caly Robertson came closest to breaking the deadlock when he jinked his way in from the right wing before poking wide under pressure in front of the net, Joe Coulter then firing just wide when he broke down the middle with the Chiefs on the penalty kill following an interference call on player-coach Sam Zajac.
The Chiefs had almost killed the penalty off, but just came up short when James Spurr reacted quickest to a loose puck in front of Sam Gospel to back-hand home for a 1-0 lead at 7.45.
The Chiefs couldn’t make an 87-second 5-on-3 power play count, barely creating a chance and they were made to pay for it when forced on to the penalty kill again early in the second, Reece Cochrane firing through traffic from the blue line at 24.43.
Alex Graham almost made it 3-0 soon after when he cannoned one off the Chiefs’ crossbar before the hosts got themselves back in the game when Valcak fired in his first of the night at 32.29 when cutting in from the right and firing the puck through Zimozdra.
Brady Doxey then hit the pipes from close range shortly before the period break, after which the Chiefs came out strong, perhaps realising their season was on the line.
It wasn’t long before they levelled, Zajac’s pass out from the Chiefs’ zone finding Joe Coulter who skated clear to find the top right-hand corner of Zimozdra’s net at 46.02.
The Steeldogs were still a threat going forward but they were floored when, with Vladimir Luka in the box on a holding call, Valcak drove to the net before lifting the puck over Zimozdra’s right shoulder to make it 3-2 at 53.38.
It got even better for the Chiefs when, 73 seconds later, Robertson opened his account with a deserved first goal with a similar move to Valcak.
The lure of overtime obviously proved too much to resist for the Chiefs, the Steeldogs showing great resilience to fight their way back into the game for a deserved point, only for Valcak to keep the hosts’ season alive. Just.
With 10 games now reamining, the Chiefs are 12 pointsout of the playoff places after Raiders took four points from their double header with Bracknell Bees, who picked up a point in a 4-3 overtime loss in Romford on Sunday night.
It looks a tall order and is a tall order but, with two games in hand and an encounter against both Raiders and the Bees to come, there remains hope.