Panthers wreck Belfast Giants' hopes of silverware
Belfast Giants 1 - Nottingham Panthers 3 (Panthers win 7-4 on aggregate)
The Belfast Giants' season is over - a week before they hoped it would end with silverware. Trailing 4-3 to the Nottingham Panthers going into last night's Play-off quarter-final second leg, the Giants succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the SSE Arena to ruin hopes of finishing the season with a trophy.
Andy Bohmbach, Evan Mosey and Chris Lawrence scored the crucial goals for the Panthers and they will go into a semi-final with the Fife Flyers on Saturday.
For the Giants, instead of heading to Nottingham for the final four weekend, some of the players will now be making plans to head home to north America - with a number of them having played their last game for the club.
Things could have been very different if the Giants hadn't had a first-period goal by James Desmarais wiped out. Referee Stefan Hogarth had blown his whistle for a penalty a split second before the puck hit the net.
Indeed the Giants had much the better of the first period, with Kris Beech and Craig Peacock both seeing shots saved by Nottingham goaltender Miika Wiikman, as well as player-coach Derrick Walser and Mike Wilson missing the target with their efforts.
The Panthers grabbed the lead on the night with just two minutes of the first period to go.
Robert Farmer put the puck into the Giants zone and Bohmbach skated through before flicking the puck high over goaltender Stephen Murphy's shoulder and into the net.
Darryl Lloyd forced a save from Wiikman early in the second period, but it was Nottingham defenceman Steven Lee who was closest to scoring at that stage when he brought a big stop from Murphy.
The Panthers really took control after they were awarded a penalty shot midway through the second period - although for no apparent reason. They had been short-handed for a minute after Brad Moran had been sent to the box and after Mosney appeared to be impeded he stepped up himself and beat Murphy high on the backhand.
The Giants were already rocking at this stage and they were in real trouble when Lawrence scored the third at 32:29 as he capitalised after the home defence lost the puck.
When Matthew Myers was called for holding 23 seconds later the Giants went for broke and pulled Murphy on the powerplay. He stayed off the ice for almost the entire two minutes, but his team-mates couldn't find a goal to get them back into the game.
The puck was scrambled away from the front of the net as Mike Forney tried to pounce early in the third period and although Colin Shields did score the goal came with just three seconds left to play, with the game long since over as a contest.