The Belfast Giants suffered an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat against the Nottingham Panthers to end their hopes of winning the Erhardt Conference.
In a game that thrilled the massive 7,165 crowd at the Odyssey Arena, Ray Sawada struck an equaliser 21 seconds from the end of regulation time.
The extra five minutes of four-on-four sudden-death play couldn’t separate the teams, meaning a shoot-out and with all three Giants takers — Nathan Robinson, Mike Kompon and Evan Cheverie — failing to score, Chris Higgins’ solitary finish won the game for Nottingham.
The Giants had been the better team early in the game and after outshooting Nottingham 12-6 in the first period they took the lead at 22:49 when Craig Peacock (pictured) finished from Cheverie’s pass on a powerplay.
It took Nottingham 15 minutes to get onto the scoresheet — and when they did they struck twice inside 40 seconds.
They were a man short with Chris Lawrence in the penalty box when Guillaume Doucet collected Higgins’ pass and finished at 37:47.
The game was turned on its head at 18:25 when Maxime Langelier-Parent set up Jonathan Boxill and he beat Carsen Chubak — who returned to the Giants team ahead of Stephen Murphy.
Sawada’s goal came after a period of Giants pressure, but they couldn’t find a winner in overtime and then paid the penalty for failing to find the net in the shoot-out that followed.