Super Panthers sink leaders on penalty shots
BUBBLING Nottingham Panthers are in Dundee tomorrow night, looking to build on their fine 3-2 penalty-shots road victory over Elite League leaders Belfast Giants.
Power-play goals from David Ling and Anthony Stewart deservedly saw Panthers go into the first break 2-0 up last night at the Odyssey Arena.
The Giants pulled one back in the second period and dramatically levelled it up just 30 seconds from time after pulling their goalie for the extra attacker.
But there was no denying Panthers and after overtime failed to find the sudden-death winner, penalty-shot strikes from Eric Werner, David Ling and Matt Francis saw them notch the extra point.
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Full-strength Panthers came out clearly up for it, with an aggressive start, forechecking and at a high tempo.
But they did well to kill off a boarding penalty to Brandon Benedict, who flattened Matt Towe after 67 seconds.
And four minutes later, referee Mike Hicks sent Panthers skipper Jordan Fox to the sin-bin, with the visitors again nullifying Giants' advantage.
Belfast, who were missing the influential Robbie Sandrock, were finding it hard to handle Panthers and it came as no surprise when they found themselves trailing.
And it was Panthers powerplay – which had looked so impressive against Cardiff last weekend – that clicked again.
With Belfast centre Darryl Lloyd off for hooking, Panthers swarmed all over the Giants.
And Ling was left with time and space to blast home the deserved opener, David Clarke and Werner the assists, in the ninth minute.
And it was 2-0 less than seven minutes later with Panthers powerplay proving too hot to handle once again.
This time Jonathan Weaver got them moving and when Stewart circled the net, feeding Clarke for his shot, the NHLer was quickest to the rebound for his sixth goal of the season (16.33).
Belfast were doing what they could to halt Panthers' momentum.
And, inevitably, just before the end of the period in which the visitors had dominated, Giants' skipper Adam Keefe went at it with Panthers Guy Lepine, both getting fighting majors.
Belfast came out for the second period in more determined mood and within 36 seconds, drew a penalty, with Jason Beckett off for holding – and more were to follow.
Goalie Craig Kowlaski came to Panthers rescue with a fine stop and they were on the defensive once more when Matt Francis was called for cross-checking (29.40).
The penalties were coming thick and fast now with Giants' Lloyd off for elbows, followed by Panthers Matthew Myers five minutes later for a harsh tripping penalty.
And the pressure paid off for Belfast with Craig Peacock getting their opener (37.52).
Penalty-killer Marc Lever was next to see the inside of the sin-bin but Panthers saw that one off to the end of the period, leaving everything to play for in the final 20 minutes.
Belfast's penalty-killing had to be at its best at the start of the third, with Keefe binned for cross-checking.
And Panthers certainly had their chances to sew this one up with Ling, Stewart and Beckett all going close.
But just as it seemed they might hold out, Belfast called a time-out, withdrew goalie Stephen Murphy and with just 30 seconds left on the clock, Greg Stewart scrambled in a desperate equaliser to send the game into overtime.
Panthers dominated the overtime period without luck but netted all their three penaly shots – from Werner, Ling and Francis to seal what could be a vital extra point.
On Sunday, Panthers' Celtic trek continues when they are in Dundee for the first time this season.
BELFAST 2 PANTHERS 3
(0-2, 1-0, 1-0, 0-1)
Clarke 0+2; Ling, Stewart 1+0; Werner, Weaver 0+1
Shots on goal: Giants (on Kowalski) 23 , Panthers (on Murphy) 34 (6/12, 11/8, 5/10, 1/4)
Penalty mins: Giants 13 Panthers 17 (9/9, 2/8, 2/0, 0/0)
Panthers man of the match: Craig Kowalski
Referee: Mike Hicks