NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS 3 – 6 BELFAST GIANTS
The Belfast Giants snapped a three game losing streak on Sunday Night at the N.I.C (National Ice Centre) in Nottingham, with a hard fought 6-3 win over the Nottingham Panthers in what was a scrappy contest between two of the heavyweights in the Elite League. Two goals by Darryl Lloyd and tremendous road game by the league champions saw them beat their title rivals to stay within touching distance of the top four in the Elite League table.
Belfast found themselves 2-0 up inside the opening 4 minutes of the contest with Daryl Lloyd netting twice for the Giants, as the Panthers defense was unable to clear their lines and saw the Giants capitalise on a couple of mistakes by the hosts to take a deserved lead. After losing 3-2 to Hull Stingrays the night before, the Giants came out the traps flying and the League Champions were looking to use this final game on their four game road trip as a springboard to push on.
Nottingham needed something to happen as they were being bossed around the ice by the visitors for almost the opening 10 minutes of the first period with the hosts unable to get any kind of spark igniting from their bench at all. They then got given an opportunity on the power play when first off Colin Shields was called for a Hook on the Belfast side and so with over half way through the man 5 on 4 advantage, Adam Keefe tangled with a Nottingham man at the front of the Panthers net behind the play and picked up an Interference call for his troubles at 9.16 gone in the game.
This saw the power play unit fire for the Panthers, as Cody Wild drilled one by Carsen Chubak in Giants net to see the home side get on the scoreboard for 1-2, with former Giant Chris Higgins and Bruce Graham assisting at 9.47 to give the Panthers a way back into the game. We then saw hundreds of Teddy Bears thrown on the ice to celebrate the home side scoring, in which all bears thrown and collected on the ice was being rounded up and taken to a local children`s charity in the Nottingham area which is a nice touch by the Panther organisation. However the delay in clearing the Bears up from the ice seemed to completely kill the momentum that the Panthers had built up on the goal, and it played more into the hands of the away team as they could regroup from the rest.
Belfast regained control of the game and looked very threatening on the attack for the duration of the opening period of play, with Nottingham netminder Mattias Modig having to be on his game to deny a few Belfast goal scoring opportunities. The Giants seemed to have been playing with an heir of determination to their all round play and following their loss the night before you clearly see they wanted to make amend for it.
In the Second period and the Giants continued their dominance of the game, to which they increased their lead to 3-1 after just 36 seconds gone, when Kevin Westgarth managed to score at the front of the net and had the travelling support back on their feet once more as Craig Peacock and Mark McCutcheon was credited with assists on the Westgarth goal. Panthers really were struggling in the game, as they found it hard to come by creating much in the way of chances or even keeping possession as they were caught out a couple of time. Nottingham had a lot of misplaced passes during the match and the Giants failed to make the most of them when they came to trying finish the chances off.
Robby Sandrock then took a needless penalty for the Giants when he launched himself towards an opposing player near the benches and was rightly called for Charging at 23.46. From the resulting power play, it saw the home side once again make full use of the extra man advantage, with a David Clarke low drive getting tipped in at the front of the net by Bruce Graham stick and brought it back to within one of the visitors at 23-38 in the game.
The match officials then tried to spoil the game with their constant whistle blowing and calling of bad penalties upon both sides, to which the other referee seemed made make up calls on their opponents. Neither side got much in the way rhythm going on in the second twenty minutes of play, with the constant stop start of the game from the stripes out on the ice as they made it a very infuriating game to watch for all concerned. Belfast was taking the majority of the penalties and saw the home side go on another 5 on 3 power play with Robby Sandrock back in the penalty box, along with Mike Kompon as they picked up Roughing and Slashing calls .
Nottingham`s power play unit who had done a good job in the game so far scoring twice on the special teams, then tied the game up at 3-3 after a bit of a controversial moment that saw the Panthers level at 27.13. It saw a shot come in from an angle and had the Giants netminder Carsen Chubak spill the puck loose and lost it numerous times, before laying on the puck and looking to have covered it underneath him. But Higgins for the Panthers poked under the netminder and forced the puck into the net, which led to angry protests from Belfast players furious with Stefan Hogarth decision to award the goal as the official skated quickly away from the incident.
It saw the N.I.C rocking with the Panthers nation believing that the goal and perhaps momentum had swung in their direction now for the rest of the match. Chubak was clearly rattled by Nottingham`s 3rd goal and looked unsure of himself and saw his defence having to get their focus back with the Panthers now taking over and peppering the Belfast goals with shots and had them come close to taking the lead, when the puck dinged off the post and saw a scramble to clear it away from danger.
Play became end to end with neither side wanting to concede the next goal and it felt like the hosts would be that side to as they turned it up a notch and had a feeling of whoever scored next, would have the upper hand in the contest. That go-ahead goal came and went for the Giants, after a very fortunate bounce went their way, as Jeff Mason and Kevin Westgarth assisted Craig Peacock to which his effort bounced in off a Panthers defenseman to see Belfast retake the lead at 4-3 at 32-10.
With seconds ticking down on the Second, the visitors committed too many men forward and got caught in possession by the hosts to which they lead a break away and luckily for the Northern Irish side, Jeff Mason was back checking and managed to poke the puck away to stop a dangerous attack coming to nothing. With the hooter sounding it brought and an end to interestingly poised contest at 4-3 to the Giants and with just a period to go, it saw an exciting period to go.
In the final period it saw the Belfast Giants stifle the Panthers comeback attempts, as the Giants played a very smart road game to combat the home side attack, to which Nottingham struggled to create much and saw them beginning to run out of ideas in the match. The killer blow for the home side came at 44.48 in the 3rd, when Chris Lawrenson was sitting for two minutes in the box after a received a Slashing call against him and saw the visitors go on a rare power play and had Jeff Mason convert on the man advantage, with Robby Sandrock and Craig Peacock getting assists for the Giants 5th goal, to restore a two goal cushion.
|Sawada nets Empty net goal to seal Belfast Win
In truth, the Panthers throughout the game played lethargic and didn`t really look like themselves, as they failed to test Chubak to much in the Belfast goals as he didn`t exactly pull up any trees with his performance in the game. His defense however in front of him deserve a lot of credit, as they kept the Panthers to arms length at times and never gave them a sniff in the 3rd period of a remote chance of coming back as the fact they stayed out of the box increased the Giants chances of victory.
So when Nottingham rolled the dice one last time and pulled the netminder for the extra attacker in attempt to try and bring it back to within a goal game, it saw Robert Farmer pick up a 10 minute Abuse of Official call with 44 seconds remaining and didn`t help their cause. The Giants sealed victory with an empty net goal after their first effort missed the target and then had Ray Sawada make saw this time, finishing off the game putting home. The sight of the Primrose and Charcoal jerseys suddenly dispersing into empty blue seats saw the flip side of things in the corner, with the small gathering of Teal and White shirted Belfast fans rising to their feet to salute their heroes and celebrate a big win on the road in a very difficult building to come and pick up a result in.