Sudden death drama gives Panthers a famous treble

A dramatic sudden death overtime winner gave Nottingham Panthers a famous trophy treble on Sunday, at the Capital FM Arena.

Corey Neilson’s men beat Belfast Giants 3-2, thanks to Jordan Fox’ powerplay goal with 12 minutes remaining in the extra period.

And the victory handed Nottingham their third major trophy of the season, following their first league title in 57 years and the Challenge Cup they won last week.

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Neilson said the play-off win capped a fantastic campaign for his men.

“It was a tough accomplishment,” he said.

“It was very hard, we were up against another great hockey club and I thought it was a great spectacle for everyone.”

“My players did a fantastic job all season long, putting their bodies on the line. We’ve got some pretty special players and it’s been a fun season.”

Netminder Craig Kowalski said their run of success had almost made a win on Sunday inevitable.

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He said: “The season we had, it had to end that way. Everyone knew we were going to win it.”

The Elite League play-off weekend began with Panthers’ semi-final clash with Cardiff Devils, who shocked the favourites with a goal after just 36 seconds, Max Birbraer tipping home the puck.

Panthers weren’t behind for long however, Bruce Graham finding space and time to steer home a loose puck at the far post in the sixth minute.

The high stick of Bribraer left Eric Werner needing treatment for a cut, and on the subsequent powerplay Graham added his second goal of the game, one-timing a shot into the roof of the net.

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Nottingham took a two goal lead in the second period, when Cardiff gave Matt Myers too much time and room to skate into the slot, beat Chris Whiteley and make it 3-1.

A powerplay chance for the Devils brought them back into it however, Chris Blight skating all the way into the Panthers zone and roofing the puck past Craig Kowalski.

When Myers slapped home his second, and Nottingham’s fourth in the final period it gave Cardiff a mountain to climb.

And Graham’s hat-trick goal ended the game as a contest with 6.37 remaining to book a place in Sunday’s final for the men in yellow and black.

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There was a last minute consolation for Cardiff from Mark Richardson, but it was almost immediately cancelled out as Myers secured a hat-trick of his own with an empty net goal.

Panthers’ opponents in the final were Belfast Giants, who overcame Coventry Blaze in the other semi-final, in a fairly comfortable 5-1 victory.

It was Nottingham who drew first blood on Sunday, breaking the deadlock in a tense game with Robert Lachowicz’ somewhat fortunate goal at 28.43 on the powerplay - the puck bouncing off the back of the net and netminder Stephen Murphy before crossing the line.

Another powerplay strike, this time a fierce shot from the stick of Jonathan Weaver just before the end of the second period, put Panthers in a commanding position going into the final 20 minutes.

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But Belfast got themselves back into it with a powerplay goal of their own, Rob Sandrock’s slapshot beating Kowalski with traffic in front.

Just three minutes later it was 2-2, Kevin Saurette perfectly placed to shoot home a big rebound in the slot.

There was to be no winner in regulation time, despite chances for both sides, and it took sudden death overtime, and a bench penalty to the Giants, to decide the tie.

Jordan Fox grabbed the all important goal with 11.58 left in overtime, shoving the puck past Murphy at the back post to send thousands of Panthers fans into raptures.

Belfast coach Doug Christiansen added his tribute to the champions after the game, saying: “Nottingham are a great team, an outstanding hockey team. They’re clinical, they’re well coached.”