Sylvestre and Kurtz earn Belfast Giants late win over Nottingham Panthers
Sebastien Sylvestre’s late winner and John Kurtz’s subsuquent empty netter handed the Belfast Giants a nail-biting 6-4 win over the Nottingham Panthers at the SSE Arena.
Leading points scorer Sylvestre netted twice in the win, and his goal 22 seconds from the end sent the Belfast crowd into raptures as they broke an incredibly nervy tie to hand the hosts a doubleheader win.
Belfast once again started Jackson Whistle in goal, while Nottingham made a change from the previous night by putting regular starter Michael Garnett between the pipes.
The Panthers took the early lead in Friday’s game, but this time the Giants roared into life early and after just 14 seconds they went ahead, Jim Vandermeer firing in a shot from the blueline that Kurtz was on hand to tip in at the slot.
Whistle had to be alert to deny Robert Lachowicz in a one on one before Belfast doubled their lead at 10:05, Nottingham enforcer Mathieu Gagnon sitting two for roughing and Spiro Goulakos ripping a slapshot from the blueline into the top corner.
Both sides then saw efforts rebound back off the pipes, the Panthers having a deflected shot bounce away before Brendan Connolly rattled one off the bar at the other end.
It was the Panthers who struck next at 18:15, Yann Sauvé carrying the puck forward and, despite the Giants’ protests, Erik Lindhagen scooped the puck into the net as Whistle was felled out in front.
Belfast were gifted their two goal lead back, perhaps justice done, at 18:50, Garnett misplacing the puck behind the net allowing Connolly to take it off him and put it into the slot for Sylvestre to slide home.
Within five minutes of the second period the lead was gone. First, Steve Lee scored for Nottingham at 21:48, the Giants’ defence going missing and the visiting captain wristing it low into the twine.
And then Mark Derlago equalised at 24:18, some good Panthers passing putting the forward in space in the slot and he finished after leaving Whistle prone on the ice with a faked shot.
Having seen their lead evaporated without so much as a shot in reply, Adam Keefe called a timeout, which seemed to improve matters as Jonathan Ferland cracked a shot off the pipes from the slot.
The warning shot preceded the fourth Belfast goal, which came with Mathieu Brisebois in the box at 27:56, Sébastien Sylvestre firing at goal from the top of the right circle and Blair Riley tipping it in five hole.
The two sides would be level at the second intermission, however, as Nottingham benefitted from another defensive lapse by the hosts, Ryan Martinelli passing straight to Alex Mokshantsev who in turn found Jeff Brown to tap in at 37:19.
That seemed to spur the Giants into action to start the third period and both Sylvestre and Ferland had one on one chances stopped by Garnett, while Whistle pulled off a stunning save at the other end to deny the visitors.
But he pulled out the best stop midway through the period, Raphaël Bussières earning a penalty shot off David Rutherford, but Whistle thrust out a pad to deflect the Nottingham forward’s shot wide of the goal.
The final few minutes were tense, and neither side had any significant chances on goal as they refused to over-commit, but that only set it up for the outstanding grandstand finish.
With 22 seconds to play, Brendan Connolly skated around the back of the net and fed it back across, where Sylvestre was waiting to flick it in at the backdoor for the last gap winner.
Nottingham responded by pulling Garnett for the faceoff to restart, but the Giants won the drawback and Kurtz ended any hopes of an unlikely Panthers comeback by sliding the puck into the empty cage.
Man of the Match: Sébastien Sylvestre (Belfast Giants)
Belfast Telegraph Digital