Hungry Panthers take bite out of Giants' title aim
Nottingham 4-2 Belfast Giants
A dramatic third period from the Nottingham Panthers has put a further dent in the Belfast Giants' Elite League title hopes.
Trailing 1-0 at the end of the first period, after Robert Farmer opened the scoring for Nottingham, the Giants rallied after the interval.
Mike Forney and the returning Mike Radja struck to put Derrick Walser's men in front, but that was as good as it got.
The Panthers scored three times in the final 13 minutes through Stephen Schultz, Robert Lachowicz and Juraj Kolnikto not only to take the two points, but also move above the Giants in the Elite League standings.
The Giants have now dropped to fifth place in the table and are seven points behind leaders Cardiff, who they face tonight, albeit with two games in hand.
In a whirlwind opening to the game, Forney went close to putting the Giants in front after a period of pressure, but didn't quite connect with a pass.
A hooking penalty against Adam Keefe put the Panthers on a powerplay. The Giants did well to survive the two minutes unscathed, but it wasn't long before Nottingham did grab the lead.
Chris Lawrence slipped the puck through to Farmer and he picked his spot before firing the puck past Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy at 11:50.
Darryl Lloyd then brought a fine save from Panthers goaltender Shane Madolora, before a second Nottingham powerplay when Mike Wilson was deemed guilty of a slashing offence.
This time, however, it was the Giants who had the clearest scoring chance. Former Panther Jonathan Boxill fired straight at Madolora as he went one-on-one on a breakaway.
The Giants may have been dominated during the first period, but it didn't take them long to get going in the second - 16 seconds to be precise, as Forney levelled the scores.
Walser and Brandon Benedict linked up and Forney finished off to notch his 14th goal of the season.
The Giants were much the better team at this stage, going close again when James Desmarais collected Radja's pass.
The biggest surprise was that it took the Giants until three minutes before the end of the second period to register their second goal.
Radja provided the finish to take him to 20 goals for the season after being set up by Forney.
The Giants started the third period in the ascendancy too, with Desmarais and Wilson firing just off target before they were hit with a sucker punch.
Schultz took advantage of some good fortune to attack the Giants goal and score at 47:34.
The Panthers regained the lead five minutes later and only eight seconds after David Clarke's check from behind on Lloyd earned him a 12-minute stay in the box.
Lachowicz broke away short handed to beat Murphy and get the Nottingham fans in the 5,150-strong crowd on their feet.
The Giants' hopes of levelling were hit when first Radja and then Walser were sent to the penalty box - almost overlapping.
Murphy was pulled with 30 seconds to go so the Giants could go for broke, but the Panthers snatched the puck and fed Kolnik, who fired into the empty net with just six seconds to go to make sure of the win.