Belfast Giants hunt Panthers as race hots up
BELFAST GIANTS 4-3 NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS
It's first blood to the Belfast Giants after they took victory over the Nottingham Panthers in the first leg of their massive weekend double header at the SSE Arena.
The Giants edged a pulsating seven-goal thriller and now they have the opportunity to cut the Panthers lead at the top of the Elite League table to just a single point when the teams meet again tonight.
Although the game finished 4-3 to the Giants, there was another goal disallowed and several other good chances which had the crowd of 4,300 on the edges of their seat all night.
The Giants powerplay worked, delivering one goal, and although the Panthers scored on the powerplay themselves, they also conceded a short-handed goal to show that Belfast's penalty kill largely did their job too.
Player-coach Derrick Walser got things moving for the Giants himself when he netted the opening goal.
After Jeff Dimmen equalised for the Panthers, Mike Forney edged the Giants in front again.
Andy Bohmbach levelled things up again, before the Giants hit two goals in the third period, through Mike Radja and James Desmarais, to take control of the game.
David Ling pulled one back for the Panthers with still a few minutes left to play, but they couldn't find an equaliser, despite going close a couple of times.
The Giants had already gone close when Walser struck to make it 1-0.
Desmarais held the puck up well and fed Walser, who sent it into the roof of the net at 5:27 while Adam Keefe sat in the box.
Keefe was back there just a few minutes later after Robert Farmer wanted to fight him, but not much happened before the officials intervened and sent both men to cool off.
Nottingham's response came less than five minutes after they had gone behind.
Bombach was set up by Ollie Betteridge and Dimmen got the final touch before the puck beat Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy.
Murphy had his fellow Scot Mark Garside to thank for clearing a lose puck after he couldn't hold Evan Mosey's shot early in the second period.
Forney fired wide when well placed before finding the net on the powerplay soon after, just seconds after Murphy had saved from Juraj Kolnik at the other end.
This time Nottingham were level even more quickly - taking just over two minutes - with Bombach's shot being deflected as it flew into the net.
Craig Peacock thought he had put the Giants 3-2 up before his effort was ruled out, but the home fans were on their feet soon after when Forney and Chris Higgins linked up superbly and Radja had the simple task of tapping home at 49:11.
Desmarais cracked in a superb fourth for the Giants three minutes later after collecting Matt Nickerson's pass.
The Panthers weren't finished though.
They pushed forward and a scramble ensued in front of the Giants net. Murphy couldn't hold the puck and Ling was on hand to force it over the line.
Kris Beech almost made it 5-3 for the Giants and Nottingham pulled goaltender Miika Wikman in the final minute as they looked for the equaliser, but they were unable to force overtime.