Fife bidding to bring end to Nottingham Panthers’ cup dominance
NOTTINGHAM Panthers will put their league title aspirations on ice, literally, when they face Fife Flyers at the National Ice Centre tonight (7.30pm).
The two oldest senior clubs in the UK battle it out in the second leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-final, with holders Panthers having a one-goal advantage after edging the first leg 3-2, thanks to David Ling’s third-period winner.
Awaiting them in the last four are Belfast Giants, who Panthers have beaten in the last two finals and currently trail the Nottingham outfit by four points in the title race.
Panthers also have two crucial league games coming up this weekend.
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They face Coventry for the final time this season at the Skydome on Saturday, before Sunday’s last game in Sheffield.
But coach Corey Neilson said: “We’re looking no further than playing Fife.
“Tonight’s game is another we have to win and logically, on our best day, we should be better than they are on their best day.
“But it’s hockey and you can never take anything for granted.
“We will treat them as we do every other team and go out there and try to get the job done to the best of our abilities.”
League leading Panthers go into the clash on the back of two more excellent wins last weekend that went along way to confirm there is more grit to their game than in the recent past.
They trailed Coventry 2-0 before an eight-goal avalanche buried the visitors.
And, on Sunday, two last-minute goals saw them triumph 4-2 in Cardiff, after a performance that particularly pleased Neilson.
“I was really delighted with that win,” he said.
“In years past we would not have had it in us to grind out a win like we did in that game.
“Cardiff played really well and we played good, too, and it made for a great game between two excellent teams.
“It’s always tough at their place and you can always expect a gruelling night, so to come out of it on top was very pleasing.”
Neilson also enthused over the way Panthers finished the game after killing off a five-minute penalty when defenceman Jason Beckett was kicked out for ‘checking to the head’.
And their two goals came from players at different ends of the experience spectrum.
With 58 seconds left, a rink-length move started by Jonathan Weaver, saw Matthew Myers drop a sublime pass for veteran former NHLer Ling to power home.
And young Brit Rob Lachowicz – 23 next week – finished the job with a cool empty-netter in the dying seconds.
“Linger’s finish was great but Matthew’s pass was something special,” said Neilson.
“I even had Linger on the ice for the penalty kill for a change because I didn’t want him freezing on the bench for five minutes.
“It was a long night but he still had something left in his tank to hit that winner.
“And Lacho is playing great hockey at the moment. I am very pleased with him.”
Fife have import Kris Hogg back after he’d missed the first leg with illness.
But they will be without Scot Steve McAlpine who broke his collarbone in the first clash after colliding with the boards.
American winger Casey Haines is still likely to be out with an ankle injury.
Members of families of servicemen currently serving in Afghanistan will be at tonight’s game as guests of the Panthers.
Additionally, pupils from ten schools on the waiting list to get on Panthers’ very popular schools programme will be adding their youthful support at the game.
Also tonight, Sheffield face Dundee Stars at home, bidding to overturn a 4-2 deficit from the first leg on Tayside.
Last night, a last-gasp goal from former Panther Jade Galbraith saw Braehead put Coventry out of the cup with a 4-3 (6-5agg) scoreline.