A PAIR of third period goals from Aaron Nell and Chris Jones earned Swindon Wildcats a draw against Sheffield Steeldogs at Ice Arena Sheffield tonight in the first leg of the National Cup Final.

Wildcats trailed 2-0 entering the final period in Yorkshire after two powerplay goals in the middle period from Tim Smith and Cameron Brownley earned the hosts a two-goal advantage.

But a determined Cats side beat Steeldogs netminder Dmitri Zimozdra twice in four minutes to balance the tie ahead of Sunday’s second leg at the Link Centre.

Wildcats, absent from the ice for 10 days following their controversial playoff exit against Peterborough Phantoms, made a rusty start and conceded an early penalty when Ben Nethersell was boxed for high sticks.

Steeldogs failed to make the most of their one-man advantage as Wildcats returned to full strength with few defensive wobbles.

Swindon’s best chance in the opening period came on eight minutes when player-coach Aaron Nell stickhandled his way past Ashley Calvert before shooting from close range.

Steeldogs netminder Dmitri Zimozdra was equal to Nell’s effort though, making a smart save.

Zimozdra was called upon seconds later when a bobbling puck fell loose in front of net for Sam Bullas. But Bullas’ effort crashed into the body of Steeldogs’ netminder as the score remained level.

The rest of the first period followed this pattern as Wildcats couldn’t find the back of Zimozdra’s net, despite good link-up play in central ice.

Steeldogs took the lead seconds into the middle period when an unmarked Tim Smith scored at the back door on the powerplay following a tripping call on Birbraer.

Phil Hill came close to equalising for Wildcats five minutes later when his one-timer from close range was hit over Zimozdra’s net as Cats piled on the pressure.

But their momentum was killed when Birbraer was boxed again, this time for cross-checking.

Steeldogs pounced and scored their second powerplay goal of the night at 32.08 when Cameron Brownley beat Renny Marr from close range.

Two further penalties were served by Wildcats as Aaron Nell’s men picked up a bench minor penalty for too many men before Sam Godfrey was boxed for tripping.

Wildcats successfully killed both penalties, but it denied the visitors a chance to pull a goal back as they ended the second period two goals behind.

Wildcats enjoyed more possession at the start of the third period and continued to test Dmitri Zimozdra in the Steeldogs’ net.

Chris Jones was denied what would’ve been a backdoor tap in during the opening minute as Zimozdra got a glove to Phil Hill’s reverse pass.

The Steeldogs netminder then made the save of the night after he was caught out of position by Jordan Kelsall, whose effort was edged wide. Cats continued to apply pressure and were rewarded with eight minutes to go when Sam Godfrey’s pacey pass was deflected home by Aaron Nell at 51.41, halving the home side’s lead.

Swindon soon levelled the game after Jordan Kelsall was denied on three occasions before Chris Jones struck past Steeldogs’ defence, to the delight of Wildcats’ travelling fans.

Swindon will face the Steeldogs in the return fixture at the Link Centre on Sunday afternoon at 4pm.