Corey Neilson looks for Nottingham Panthers to continue remarkable Challenge Cup record
COREY Neilson will be looking for Nottingham Panthers' great record in winning two-legged ties to carry them to another Challenge Cup final.
His league leaders face second-placed Belfast Giants in the first leg of the cup semi-final at the National Ice Centre tonight (7.30pm) bidding to take another step towards an unprecedented fourth successive triumph in the competition.
Their three cups wins together with play-off victories in the last two seasons means Panthers haven't lost a two-legged tie since 2010.
This semi-final clash is a repeat of the last two finals but Neilson will remind his players that the Giants have already claimed Panthers' scalp twice at the NIC this season, the last time in the middle of January with a 5-4 scoreline.
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That came after a dreadful first period when they shipped four goals and Neilson will hope his players hit the ground running after the enforced international break last weekend, which allowed Jonathan Weaver more time to recover from injury after missing the last three games as well as the GB trip to Latvia.
He said: "I don't think we played our best hockey in our last two games against Belfast and Sheffield and we will have to clean it up a bit against these top teams.
"Belfast are one of the real elite teams in our league. They are fast and they are skilled and we definitely have to be good on the night.
"We've had some pretty smooth runs to be honest, to get to the finals in the past, but it's a tough one this time and the next one too if we get through.
"It's a competition we enjoy and any sort of lead would be good to take to their place.
"I think in games like this, if we play our best we have as good a chance as anybody. We just have to play well."
Although without any games last weekend, Neilson's players carried on training through the week and their four GB players – Matthew Myers, David Clarke, Rob Lachowicz and Steve Lee – have reported back from the Olympics qualifiers in Riga with a clean bill of health.
"We don't want to go too long without playing games as we've had a decent momentum going for us," Neilson added. "When we've had a bunch we've generally been good, stayed sharp and focused.
"We want to keep that pace up – and keep on winning."
Belfast will be without ex-NHL forward Greg Stewart for both legs of the semi-final.
He is banned for nine-games after 'kneeing' and 'checking to the head' penalties during their ill-tempered game in Cardiff on February 3, which saw Devils' star import Mac Faulkner ruled out for the season with a serious knee injury
Giants have, however, signed two-season pro Chad Langlais, a 5ft 9in American defenceman who flew into the country yesterday and was due to make his debut in a testimonial game for Belfast stalwart Graeme Walton last night.
The return game is in Belfast on Tuesday, February 26.