NOTTINGHAM, U.K. – A hattrick apiece from Panthers duo Bruce Graham and Matt Myers helped them to a 6-3 victory over the Cardiff Devils in the Playoff Semi Final to book them a place in Sunday’s ultimate showdown.
The Devils got off to the perfect start and took the lead after just 36 seconds courtesy of Max Birbraer who tipped home a Stuart MacRae point shot in front of the Panthers net to make it 1-0 to the Welsh side.
Cardiff kept the pressure on the Panthers and tested netminder Craig Kowalski early on with a flurry of shots on the powerplay.
The Panthers responded and grabbed an equaliser through the impressive Bruce Graham, who netted a close range rebound low past Chris Whitley at 05:36 for his 41st goal of the season.
The Devils came close to regaining the lead when Max Birbraer fumbled on a chance in front of the Panthers net, and couldn’t get his shot away cleanly in the seventh minute.
The Devils piled pressure on the Panthers and came close once again when Jesse Gimblett backhanded a shot into Craig Kowalski’s face cage at 11:49.
The Panthers pressed and took the lead for the first time in the game with Bruce Graham finding the back of the net with a blistering one-timer slapshot on the powerplay from the right wing low past Chris Whitley at 13:14 to make it 2-1.
The Panthers who were buoyed by their vocal fans almost doubled their advantage when feisty forward Matt Francis forced a great low leg pad save from Whitley in the Devils goal.Nottingham came out of the gates flying for the second period and put the Devils on the back foot with a strong forecheck and some great pressure in the Devils zone.
The Panthers soon netted their third goal of the game courtesy of Welsh forward Matt Myers whose strong wristshot found its way through Whitley’s 5-hole at 26:42 to make it 3-1.
The Devils had a chance of their own when Stuart MacRae found himself on a breakaway but the towering centreman couldn’t muster a shot as the puck trickledover his stick in the 27th minute.MacRae did however make amends for his earlier blunder as he set up Chris Blight for Devils second goal of the game, with Blight firing top shelf past Kowalski from the left wing with a sublime wristshot at 31:58.
The Devils goal gave them some much needed momentum for the closing stages of the second period, and they almost scored with a Jesse Gimblett backhanding testing Kowalski.
The Panthers came out strong for the third period and piled the pressure on the Devils with some great passing and cycling in the Devils zone.
The Panthers soon scored their fourth goal courtesy of Matt Myers with a well placed slapshot after a nice pass from Jonathan Weaver at 45:38 to give his team some breathing room.
The Panthers pressed and soon widened the margin to three when Bruce Graham completed his hattrick marker with a well taken wristshot to make it 5-2 with just over six minutes of the game remaining.
The Devils were gifted a late powerplay chance with Panthers defenceman Jason Beckett sitting out a delay of the game penalty with just over five minutes of the game remaining.
The Devils took a gamble with 1:42 left as they pulled netminder Chris Whitley in favour of an extra attacker. The gamble paid off as Mark Richardson was on hand to net a loose puck after a goal mouth scramble with 44 seconds remaining.
The game was all but done when it was left to Matt Myers to sail the puck into the net for his hattrick goal with just 29 seconds of the game left to complete an impressive 6-3 victory over the Devils.
The Panthers secure their spot in Sunday’s final against the winner of the second semi final between Belfast and Coventry.
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