Attention turns to Cup defence for table-topping Nottingham Panthers
AFTER winning six of their seven games against their own conference opposition during January to consolidate their position at the top of the Elite League table, Nottingham Panthers turn their attention to their 'favourite' cup competition tomorrow.
Challenge Cup winners for the past three seasons and five times in all, Panthers face Fife Flyers at the National Ice Centre (7.30pm) holding a narrow one-goal lead after edging the first leg 3-2 in Kirkcaldy last week.
It's not been an easy run for Panthers, who have had to show their resilience and bounce-back-ability, especially in the last three games, including against Fife who shrugged off a two-goal deficit to pull level before David Ling's game-winner.
Then against Coventry at the weekend, Panthers found themselves two down at halfway before a David Clarke hat-trick helped them to a thumping 8-3 win. And 24 hours later in Cardiff, they once again saw a 2-0 lead wiped out before Ling and Rob Lachowicz hit last-minute power-play goals to seal a 4-2 victory.
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Just like Clarke's second goal against Coventry, Ling's go-ahead goal in Cardiff was one for the highlights reel after a sweeping move saw Matthew Myers' exquisite drop pass through his skates saw the former NHL man power the puck home.
And Myers – who was back in hometown Cardiff – says Panthers are thriving on the pressure that being top of the table brings.
"It's all about winning – nothing else," said Myers. "Every week we seem to be playing big games against the top four or five teams and doing well.
"OK, we lost to Belfast after a poor first period, but we bounced back the next night to beat Sheffield so we just have to keep winning and keep plugging away, no matter who we are playing and whether it's the cup or league."
And Myers says it is the depth of scoring throughout the team that is paying dividends.
For instance, despite Panthers being far and away the highest scorers in the league, Myers' GB team-mate Clarke has had a barren run in front of goal this season, but has now hit five in three games.
"There are goals all over the team," said Myers.
"At one stage it was one line or one player doing all the damage but recently we've started to spread the scoring about.
"That means it is difficult for other teams to shut the three lines down for 60 minutes.
"But it's not just the scoring. The goalie (Craig Kowalski) and defence are playing really well and the back-pressure from the forwards means the opposition creative players haven't got space to do their thing."