Table-topping Panthers too hot for Stars
NOTTINGHAM Panthers were made to work hard but were ultimately too good for Dundee Stars as they completed a solid 4-1 victory on the first leg of their trek to Scotland.
An impressive three-goal second period did the trick for the league leaders with two of the goals coming inside 37 frantic seconds.
Tonight, they are in Fife before completing their marathon three-games-in-three- nights stretch in Edinburgh tomorrow.
Panthers were at full strength but Stars were without injured American Billy Bagron and local-born defenceman Sam McCluskey.
A large contingent of Panthers fans approaching the 200 mark got behind their side from the off.
And it was all one-way at the start but Panthers' first power-play opportunity in the eighth minute, with Jack Watkins off for kneeing, came to nothing despite their constant pressure.
As expected, Stars' Nic Riopel was the busier of the two goalies. But at the other end, league No.1 Craig Kowalski was grateful when Janis Ozolins' tip went wide on a Dundee power-play, David Clarke in the box for hooking.
Bruce Graham was next to go close for Panthers but Riopel did well to save.
The shots on goal tally of 19-8 in Panthers favour told the story of the first period as Dundee were happy to keep the visitors out for the opening 20 minutes.
But Panthers wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, at the start of the second.
Straight from the face-off, won by Matthew Myers, Kelsey Wilson got the puck to David Clarke to put the visitors ahead with his 20th goal of the season.
And before Stars had chance to regroup, David Ling deflected home No.2 from Bruce Graham and Brandon Benedict, just 26 seconds later.
Dundee hit back immediately, though, with former Panther Sami Ryhanen being denied by Kowalski after picking off a loose pass out of defence.
Panthers, looking so strong in attack, came close to a third when Clarke's shot hit the side-netting via a defenceman after solid work by skipper Jordan Fox.
And a Matt Francis effort was then kicked away by Riopel before Kowalski was first to a rebound to fend off Jeff Hutchins.
AJ MacLean and Stars' dangerman Mike Wirll showed Panthers this was not going to be a cakewalk as they powered in shots on goal.
But after Francis had been kept out by Riopel, the winger set up Josh Ward for a smart finish and his second goal of the season to make it 3-0 for Panthers on the half-hour mark.
Shortly afterwards, there was a hold-up when Stars' Tristan Harper inadvertently shot the puck into the crowd and hit a boy.
The players from both sides were clearly concerned, but thankfully the tearful youngster was able to carry on watching the game after receiving attention from the medics.
When play resumed, Riopel's lightning reflexes kept out Graham when he seem destined to net a fourth for Panthers on a power-play.
After seeing off a penalty to Eric Werner either side of the second break, Kowalski was scooping the puck out of his net after Dundee pulled one back through MacLean in the first minute of the final period.
Panthers then hit penalty problems, with Ling and Guy Lepine off in quick succession, but they killed those off superbly, including almost a minute of 5-on-3.
But after failing to score on a power-play opportunity of their own, Panthers sewed up the game with a fourth goal from Wilson, from Myers and Clarke, with less than two minutes remaining.
Panthers game next Saturday against Sheffield is already a virtual sell-out.
Peterborough youngster Luke Ferrara – brother of former Panther James – scored on his debut for Cardiff Devils against Nottingham's title rivals Belfast last night.
But Belfast came from behind to win 5-4 at the Odyssey.
DUNDEE 1 PANTHERS 4
(0-0, 0-3, 1-1)
Clarke, Wilson 1+1; Myers 0+2; Ling, Ward 1+0; Benedict, Graham, Francis, Lachowicz 0+1
Shots on goal: Stars (on Kowalski) 24, Panthers (on Riopel) 47 (8/19, 9/18, 7/10)
Penalty mins: Stars 8, Panthers 10 (2/2, 4/2, 2/6)
Panthers man of the match: Kelsey Wilson
Referee: Mike Hicks
Attendance: 800 (est)
Other result: Belfast 5, Cardiff 4