Belfast Giants' hearts broken
Nottingham Panthers 3 Belfast Giants 2 (after overtime)
Distraught Belfast Giants coach Doug Christiansen described the moment that ultimately cost his team the Play-off title as an unfortunate error that on another day they might have got away with.
The Nottingham Panthers' overtime winner came with seven seconds remaining on a powerplay after the Giants were punished for having too many players on the ice.
The Giants had already battled back from 2-0 down at the end of the second period to level thanks to two goals in three minutes.
Their hearts were broken, however, when Nottingham made the most of their numerical advantage to win the game six minutes into a 20-minute overtime period.
The Giants were on the brink of killing the penalty and returning to play four-on-four for another 14 minutes when the puck came flying back off the boards following David Clarke's shot and dropped to Jordan Fox right beside the net and he swept it home to complete a trophy treble for the Elite League champions.
"Greg Stewart had the puck and he turned back towards his own net as opposed to pushing it forward as he would normally do," said Christiansen.
"It's something that can happen.
"The majority of times when you're in possession you go forward, but in overtime giving it away isn't the best thing to do.
"Greg Stewart came right in front of our bench and there were guys going on and off.
"We were caught in the middle of a change. Could the referee have let it go? Maybe, but we did have too many men on the ice."
The Giants had the better of things during the first period, with Stewart and Kevin Saurette both being denied by Nottingham goaltender Craig Kowalski.
The Panthers were just starting to get on top as the midway point of the game approached, with Stephen Lee ringing the pipes and Fox bringing an excellent save from Stephen Murphy, when they took the lead through an extremely fortunate goal.
Pat Galivan shot from close to the blueline on the left, Robert Lachowicz got his stick to the puck just in front of the Giants goal and sent it looping into the air before it came down on top of the net, hit Murphy on the back and bounced over the line.
Nottingham doubled their lead with 25 seconds on the second period remaining when David Ling sent the puck into the slot from beside the goal and Jonathan Weaver skated onto it before firing a powerful shot into the net.
The Giants came out for the third period in search of goals and Kowalski made big saves from Craig Peacock and Noah Clarke before they finally found the net on a powerplay.
Clarke played the puck across the ice for Robby Sandrock to crack home a trademark long range goal at 44:54
Almost exactly three minutes later Saurette mopped up the rebound on a Peacock effort to level the scores and, after killing a four- minute penalty after Darryl Lloyd was punished for a high stick, the Giants took the game to overtime.
They were always going to be up against it once the penalty was awarded in overtime and although Nottingham's patient approach looked apologetic at times it paid off in the end as Fox became their hero.
"I'm gutted. It's a tough way to lose and very disappointing," said Christiansen.
"I am really proud of the guys. This team has gone through so much this season, they have stuck together and they deserved to go out on a high.
"But they didn't get to do that."