The Nottingham Panthers slipped to a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Belfast Giants at the NIC on Saturday night.
Panthers had led the game 3-0, before five unanswered goals from the Giants saw them return to Belfast with the two points.
The result marked a disappointing end to the Panthers’ weekend, which had begun on a positive note with a 3-1 win on the road in Glasgow on Friday night.
After new netminder Peyton Jones debuted in the win over Glasgow the night before, head coach Corey Neilson opted to start Alex Dubeau in goal, just as he had in Belfast last weekend.
Swedish defenceman Albin Lindgren made his home debut, with Tanner Sorenson left out in order to meet the import quota.
Defencemen Duggie Lagrone and Craig Moore missed the game due to injuries.
Unlike the previous weekend against the Giants, it was the Panthers who took an early lead this time around. Adam Brady’s shot was well saved by Giants netminder Tyler Beskorowany and after a brief scramble in front of the net, the loose puck was pounced upon by Stephen Anderson and he fired home from close range to put the home side in front after just 4.30.
The lead was doubled at 13.14 as Nottingham broke into the Belfast zone 3 on 1. David Levin carried the puck down the left wing before playing an inch perfect pass onto the tape of Brett Welychka and the Panthers’ top scorer shot high into the roof of Beskorowany’s net for his 21st league goal of the season.
Dubeau was forced into his first testing action in the Panthers’ net shortly before the end of the first period as he saved well from Mark Garside on a 2-on-1 break for the visitors.
The second period began in the same vein as the first, with the Panthers making it 3-0 on the powerplay just over 3 minutes into the period. Kelly Summers’ shot from the blueline was saved by Beskorowany, but Luke Ferrara was on hand to control the rebound well with his skate and turn the puck into the empty net.
However, two Giants goals shortly after put the game back in the balance once again.
First, Matt Foley’s shot was brilliantly tipped in by Mark Cooper after a period of Belfast pressure to put the Giants on the board after 26.51.
Then, after Beskorowany had denied Levin what looked a certain goal with a strong pad save, Cooper immediately broke up the ice and fired a low shot in off Dubeau’s left post to cut the deficit again at 30.18.
By now, the Giants were firmly on top, but Neilson’s side were presented with a golden opportunity at 37.30 when Brady’s shot struck the post from close range.
The Panthers were dealt a huge blow just 11 seconds from the end of the second period as they allowed Grant Cooper, a recent signing from the Leeds Knights of the NIHL, too much space to drive to the front of the net, slip the puck under Dubeau and tie the game at 3.
With the momentum in Belfast’s favour, it was always likely that Adam Keefe’s men would secure the win in the third period and that proved to be the case as the league’s top point scorer Scott Conway turned the puck home at the edge of the crease after 45.13 to put them ahead for the first time in the contest.
Nottingham’s big chance to send the game to overtime fell the way of Ferrara at 57.45 but Beskorowany produced a vitally important save to turn away his effort from close range.
A David Gilbert tripping penalty with two minutes and two seconds left on the clock presented Neilson with the perfect chance to pull Dubeau for the extra attacker.
However, the Panthers’ 6 on 4 opportunity was dealt with well by the Giants, as Ben Lake broke up the ice and finished into the empty net to close out the game at 58.45.
This result sees the Giants close the gap between themselves and top of the table Guildford Flames to just four points, while Neilson’s Panthers remain sixth.
Next weekend, Nottingham will face a trip to Altrincham to take on the Manchester Storm on Saturday night, before they return to the NIC for the visit of the Glasgow Clan on Sunday afternoon.
*Article provided by Evan Shaw (Nottingham Panthers Correspondent).
*Main image @PanthersIHC defeat at the Motorpoint Arena against the Giants for Nottingham.