IN a thrilling finale that had everyone in what was a big crowd on their feet, the Vipers threatened to snatch a draw their never-say-die attitude deserved.
Trailing 4-2 the Vipers took a time out on 58 minutes with a face due in the Steelers’ zone.
When the players lined up to restart the game, netminder Charlie Effinger was sitting on the home bench for a six on five skater gamble which, for once, paid off nine seconds later.
Positioned in front of the crease, Jaroslav Rzeszutko somehow poked the puck across the goaline for his 32nd goal of the season.
There were about 55 seconds left on the game clock when Effinger was withdrawn again, with the Vipers advancing and the home fans as well as a large contingent of away support making a considerable din.
The comeback wasn’t to be but there was no disgrace in what was the Vipers’ second defeat of the weekend, following Saturday night’s 9-0 away loss against the Belfast Giants, which ended their hopes of a play-off place.
After making a promising start, the Vipers went behind to a 10th-minute goal for which the back boards at the bowling alley end of the rink should be given an assist.
A very unpredictable bounce opened up the defence for Ashley Tait, Effinger blocked the initial attempt on goal but couldn’t reposition himself quickly enough to prevent Joey Talbot capitalising on the rebound.
It was 2-0 during a powerplay, Rod Sarich’s low shot from point being redirected by Ben Simon from close range on 12 minutes.
The Steelers then went further ahead eight minutes into the middle period, Tait sending the puck across Effinger’s body and into the left-hand side of the net.
Not long after killing a Steelers’ powerplay the Vipers got on the scoreboard, their player-coach Danny Stewart shooting successfully from point on 33 minutes, with the puck passing over netminder Ervins Mustokovs’ right shoulder and high into the net.
The final period was nearly two minutes old when the Vipers suffered bad luck again, this time Sarich’s low shot from point took a wicked deflection off a Vipers’ player then between Effinger and his left-hand post. Judging from the reaction of all the players no one had seen the puck go in.
With nine minutes remaining the Vipers reduced the arrears. The result of passing between Rzeszutko and Toms Hartmanis was that Kyle Sibley was sent through on goal with only Mustokovs to beat.
The defenceman did that emphatically, his rising shot going in over the goalies’ left shoulder.
VIPERS: Rzeszutko and Sibley 1+1, Stewart 1+0, Hartmanis 0+2, Prpich and Sample 0+1.
STEELERS: Tait, Talbot and Sarich 1+1, Simon 1+0, Campbell and Dowd 0+1.
GIANTS: B. Hemingway 2+3, Benedict 2+2, C. Lambert, Prudden and Welch 1+2, C. Hemingway and Shields 1+0, Garside, Gleed, Jacobsen, Peacock and Mason 0+1.