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Cardiff Devils 4-5 Nottingham Panthers

Nottingham Panthers celebrate
Nottingham Panthers celebrate their second trophy of the season

By Owen Phillips
BBC Sport at the National Ice Centre

Nottingham edged out Cardiff in a breathless Elite League play-off final at the National Ice Centre.

Devils raced ahead thanks to Jon Pelle's rebound and Craig Weller's deflected strike but David-Alexandre Beauregard replied for Panthers.

Ryan Finnerty's fierce one-timer made it 3-1 only for Matthew Myers and Jeff Heerema to draw Nottingham level.

Brad Voth put Devils 4-3 up but Billy Ryan and Beauregard - after a mistake by Stevie Lyle - won it for Panthers.

Beauregard's second goal was the first time Panthers had led in the final but they have made a habit of doing things the hard way and this was no exception.

Nottingham, who reached the final with a thrilling overtime win against arch-rivals Sheffield Steelers on Saturday despite trailing 2-0 in the first period, once again found themselves in trouble early on.

Meyers hails 'heroic' Panthers

They did start in promising fashion in front of a packed crowd and swarmed all over the Welsh side on an early powerplay, with Jade Galbraith and Robert Lachowicz both going close.

But Devils, who beat Belfast to make British ice hockey's showpiece final, looked composed and threatening from the off and, after Mark Smith fired their first chance wastefully wide, Devils hit back in style with two goals inside the first 12 minutes.

Craig Kowalski made a smart save from Scott Matzka on a three-on-two break but Cardiff's top scorer Pelle followed up to notch his 57th goal of the season on nine minutes.

And the Welsh side doubled the lead when Pelle's strike looped up and over Kowalski courtesy of Weller's deflection.

Kowalski was furious, claiming he had been obstructed but the protests were ignored and the Panthers netminder did well to stay focused and make a stunning save while lying prone on the ice to deny Pelle.

Moments later, with Panthers looking all at sea defensively, Pelle smashed a fine shot against the upright but Panthers responded in style and made it 2-1 when Daniel Tkaczuk won a crucial face-off and Beauregard tipped the puck home after great work by skipper Danny Meyers.

A pulsating first period showed no signs of letting up as the teams exchanged goals inside two minutes of the second period.

The outstanding Finnerty blasted Devils back into a two-goal advantage with a glorious one-timer just 32 seconds into the resumption but the Challenge Cup winners responded thanks to a combination of great team work and some sloppy defending.

Galbraith was gifted possession and played a wonderful pass in front of the net and Myers coolly tapped the puck home past Lyle.

But after a brief spell of Panthers pressure came to nothing Devils regained their composure and began to look increasingly dangerous. Max Birbraer went close and the over-worked Kowalski made another superb save to keep out Finnerty's low strike.

Devils were still out-shooting their opponents but neither side could assert their dominance. Once again the momentum shifted and David Clarke mis-timed a great opportunity from in front of the net and then forced a wonderful save from Lyle after a typically incisive pass from Galbraith.

Danny Meyers
Meyers lifts the Cup the dramatic win at the Ice Centre

Nottingham drew level when the puck was hopefully flicked forward by Angel Nikolov and Heerema showed great persistence to shovel it through the legs of a bemused Lyle as it dropped out of the sky.

With Devils looking rattled for the first time in the match, Bellamy showed frightening pace to skate through but could not turn home his clever reverse-stick strike.

At the other end Finnerty somehow rolled the puck wide when it seemed easier to score and Neilson was sent to the box for a cynical penalty as he pulled the goal down following the scramble that followed.

Neilson then steamed forward in search of a short-handed goal as Cardiff made a terrible mess of a line change but his effort was saved and Devils broke immediately with a three-on-one but desperate defence kept the puck out.

Devils then went ahead once again as Voth was given plenty of time and space to turn and cleverly find the top of the net going into the third.

But still the Panthers and their player-coach Corey Neilson fought back in a thrilling last 20 minutes.

Lachowicz was denied from virtually on the goal-line before brilliant composure by Ryan drew Panthers level at 4-4 as he outfoxed Lyle when one-on-one.

Panthers suddenly began to get on top and Bellamy tested Lyle's pads with a sweet shot and Bellamy was causing all sorts of problems for the Devils.

Beauregard reflects on 'special' feeling

And they scored the ninth goal of a sensational match to lead for the first time when Beauregard somehow squeezed them ahead from the narrowest of angles.

Devils, who were the better side for large parts of the game, let their frustrations boil over in the closing minutes with Matzka ejected for abuse of an official.

And Panthers, thanks to some courageous defending and Devils indiscipline which saw them playing two men down in the closing stages, held out to claim their second trophy of a memorable season that seemed to be heading for disaster after a terrible run around Christmas.



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see also
Sheffield Steelers 3-4 Nottingham
02 Apr 11 |  Ice Hockey
Cardiff 4-1 Belfast
02 Apr 11 |  Ice Hockey
Panthers end Clan play-off hopes
27 Mar 11 |  Scotland
Panthers win after penalty drama
08 Apr 07 |  Ice Hockey


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