Ben Royle’s match report as Nottingham Panthers beat Sheffield Steelers in an incredible game.
Nottingham lined up for their 37th league game of the season, on Saturday night, without the injured pair of Jeff Dimmen and Jason Williams. Their opponents, Sheffield, were without the duties of Zack Fitzgerald.
The game opened quickly, ‘King of Sheffield’ Mathieu Roy missing a good chance, following a giveaway by Panther’s Matt Carter, just 5 minutes in. The puck was then turned over, with Robert Farmer and Brian McGrattan breaking into the Steelers zone. The initial attempt was saved by Mustokovs, but McGrattan followed up the rebound to put home his 16th goal of the season, Panthers going 1-0 up after 5:45.
Chris Lawrence was called for slashing, putting Steelers onto the power play with 10:31 left in the first period. Stephen Schultz was assisted by Brad Moran and Dan Spang to score his 10th goal of the season, while shorthanded. The home side were then successful in killing off the penalty, despite the attempts of Sheffield, who camped in the Panthers end for much all of their power play.
Steve Lee was on the receiving end of a bad hit from John Armstrong, behind the Panthers goal. Chris Lawrence came to Lee’s aid, but was called for cross-checking, Armstrong sitting for the Steelers with a two-minute minor for boarding which led to a two minute, largely uneventful, stint of 4 on 4 hockey.
McGrattan then tallied his second of the night and seventeenth of the season. Lindhagen and Farmer providing the assists.
Steelers twice came close, after going three down, but the Panthers caught them on the break for the fourth time of the night. This time Brad Moran going top shelf for his 20th of the season, Nikiforuk with the assist. The scoreboard read 4-0 to Nottingham at the end of the first, with shots on goal of 17-17.
The second period began a cagey affair. Anders Franzon put the Panthers onto the powerplay, with Jeff Brown going down injured due to a high stick. As the penalty came to an end, Brown had the puck in the net but the goal was disallowed by referee Tom Darnell as the puck had already been covered.
The remainder of the second period comprised of three goals for the visiting side. Guillaume Desbiens opening Sheffield’s account, assists from new acquisition Geoff Walker and John Armstrong.
The Panthers followed Sheffield’s first up with two of their only chances in the period, Ervins Mustokovs making glove saves on Ollie Betteridge and Rob Farmer despite dropping the shot from the latter.
Andreas Valdix scored his first of the night, and 8th of the season, putting the visitors within two of the Panthers lead. Assists from Brit Robert Dowd and Levi Nelson this time around.
The Steelers were then handed a four minute powerplay, with Panther’s captain, Brad Moran receiving a 2+2 minor for an accidental high stick. The penalty was killed by the Panthers, leaving the home side 4-2 up with 3:16 remaining in the second.
Valdix then recorded his second of the night, going bar down on Panthers’ netminder Miika Wiikman. Steelers thoroughly dominated the period, with shots on goal after the second period totalling 28-31 in Sheffield’s favour. Panthers went into the third period 4-3 up.
The Panthers opened the third period quickly, assistant-coach David Clarke extending the lead to two goals, Lachowicz and Schultz picking up the assists with 18:58 left in the game.
Matt Carter came close to extending the lead for the home side, hitting the post on a fancy backhand attempt, which left Mustokovs with no chance.
Rob Lachowicz lost his stick in the neutral zone, leading to confusion between the Panthers. Colton Fretter took advantage of the situation and popped the bottle of Wiikman, pulling the Steelers within one with 13 minutes remaining.
Ollie Betteridge was guilty of a turnover late in the third, but the Steelers failed to capitalise and Matt Carter cleared the puck.
Panthers were put onto a powerplay, with 4:51 left, after Desbiens was called for interference. Jeff Brown went close to sealing the deal, and then became involved in a scrum around the goal, one of the only fiery events of the evening.
Sheffield’s latest signing, Geoff Walker, formerly of the Oklahama City Barons, came ever so close to tying the game for the visitors. The puck fell for him in the slot but his shot was collected by Wiikman.
As the third period wore on, Sheffield pulled their netminder in an attempt to take the game to overtime. The Panthers were almost on the end of some bad luck, with a clearance out of the zone being blocked by a linesman, allowing Sheffield to re-enter the Panthers zone.
A late Steelers timeout was unsuccessful in shifting the momentum, and the Panthers skated away with just their second win since winning the Continental Cup, coming out 5-4 on the night.
Final shots on goal were 37-42 in favour of the visitors.
Nottingham now sit on a 19-12-6 record in the league, leaving them on 44 points, 9 behind the Steelers, who they have two games in hand on. Sheffield drop to a 25-11-3 record, with 53 points, 8 behind Cardiff, who sit atop the Elite League standings, following their win against Coventry Blaze.
Following the game, Corey Neilson emphasised the impact of the returning players, with Chris Lawrence playing his first game in two weeks. The Panthers head coach also spoke of the need to take the momentum gained by the victory tonight into Sheffield for the second leg of the Challenge Cup Semi Final.
The Panthers face off against the league leading Cardiff Devils on Sunday evening, before playing the Steelers in the previously mentioned second leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final. Nottingham will look to survive the week unscathed, with a double header against Midlands rivals Coventry next weekend.
To finish I’d like to say a huge thank you to Matt Davies and the Panthers organisation for granting me an opportunity to shadow Matt at Saturday night’s game. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.
You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenRoyle11