Nottingham Panthers beat Cardiff to win Challenge Cup
Highlights: Nottingham 4-5 Cardiff
By Owen Phillips
BBC Sport at the National Ice Centre
Nottingham Panthers held off a relentless Cardiff Devils outfit to lift the Challenge Cup despite suffering a 5-4 defeat in a scintillating second leg at the National Ice Centre.
Devils trailed 4-2 after last week's first leg in Wales but showed tremendous spirit to lead 2-0 and then 3-1 in the second period thanks to strikes from Tylor Michel, Wes Jarvis and Max Birbraer.
But a pulsating second period from the Panthers in which Marty Gascon, Marc Levers and David Clarke all netted ultimately secured the win - and a second Challenge Cup success in three years.
Cardiff's Mark Smith did ensure a dramatic finale with the only strike of a tense third period but the majority of the near 6,000-strong crowd went home happy as Panthers held on.
Nottingham made a blistering start, seemingly desperate to snuff out any chance of a Devils comeback in the early exchanges.
Bruce Richardson (l) and Dominic D'Amour start the celebrations
Visiting netminder Stevie Lyle pulled off a couple of fine early stops as Cardiff held out and then showed their intent to go all out for glory.
They went ahead through a fabulous breakaway strike by Tylor Michel, who finished low and hard beyond Kevin St Pierre.
St Pierre then gifted the visitors a second to make it 0-2 on the night when he inexplicably allowed a weak Wes Jarvis effort to dribble agonisingly over the line.
In fairness, it may have taken a deflection off a Panthers defender on its way in but the end result was the same and of little consolation to St Pierre who looked crestfallen.
Things could have been even worse for the home side, who survived 100 seconds of a five-on-three.
But survive Panthers did and they calmed the nerves of the home fans when they took advantage of their own five-on-three to make it 2-1 when player-coach Corey Neilson notched from in front of the net.
The second period began in the same frantic manner with Marc Levers denied one-on-one by the excellent Lyle but Devils were quickly level on aggregate.
Max Birbraer restored Cardiff's two-goal advantage with another quality finish after a glorious move from the right to the left circle.
But the game turned on its head in a four-minute spell either side of the halfway mark.
First an unbelievable strike by Marty Gascon, who somehow managed to drag his stick across the ice and finish low into the net despite being bundled to the surface and facing the wrong way.
Not to be outdone, Levers then showed similar athleticism, shrugging off a challenge and shooting high into the net on the backhand.
David Clarke completed a breathtaking spell for the Panthers with yet another backhand finish high into the roof of the net - his 36th goal of the season.
But the Devils never let their spirits drop and a sweeping move saw Birbraer ram home his second to tie the scores at 4-4 on the night.
The visitors stormed into the third period and Matt Miller had two stabs at reducing the arrears to a single goal.
At the other end, Jay Henderson sent a clever flicked effort narrowly wide of the top corner.
Both sides had good opportunities to add to their goal tally and although Smith did give the Devils a 5-4 win on the night, the Panthers held on for their third Challenge Cup win in the history of the competition.
Panthers forward Kevin Bergin told BBC Radio Nottingham: "Great team character tonight, they were up 2-0 and we had a great, great comeback.
"One down, two to go I guess [as they chase the Elite League title and play-offs]."
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