By Kris Smith
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Game 1:  Sheffield Steelers 3 V 5 Nottingham Panthers 
(Nottingham Lead Series 1-0)
The opening match of the Elite Series Playoff Final got off to a slow start as both sides tried to feel each other out and did not want to take any early risks.
That meant that the first goal of the Finals did not come until the last minute of the initial period, when the home side punished their opponents for a late penalty.
With only 16 second left to play in the first session, Nottingham’s Mark Matheson was boxed on a slashing call and six second after that, Robert Dowd netted the opener.
The British forward beat Jackson Whistle at his near post after the Steelers quickly worked the puck around the Panthers end.
However, Nottingham defender redeemed himself early in the second stanza by scoring the equaliser on 22 minutes.
Matheson followed in the shot of Brett Perlini and after John Muse blocked its path to the net, the Canadian defender was there to push home the loose puck.
Tim Wallace then saw his side take the lead in the 28th minute as Dominic Talbot-Tassi found the twine through traffic and from the left circle, just as Sheffield had killed off a penalty.
Although, their lead would last just a matter of minutes, as Nick Dineen was forced into making a bad pass behind his own goal and that allowed an unmarked, Jonathan Phillips to make it a 2-2 match after 31 minutes.
Despite letting their lead slip quickly, the Panthers regained their advantage even faster, when defenseman, Joshua Tetlow showed off his shooting skills.
A clinical and high finish past Muse, beat the Canadian netminder using his near post and 64 seconds after conceding, Nottingham led once again.
Unsurprisingly Sheffield had another answer for the Panthers but got a large stroke of luck when Josef Mikyska’s last ditch attempt ended up in the back of the net.
In the 37th minute, the Czech forward carried the puck from his own end and all the way down the ice, weaving his way through the Steelers defences.
However, when he ran out of ice, he slowed down and spun right, before shooting back towards goal and that caught Whistle off-guard, with the puck bouncing off his skates and across the line.
The next and decisive goal would not come until the third period and with Sheffield’s Liam Kirk in the box for roughing, Oliver Betteridge took advantage of the powerplay.
After a redirected shot by Kevin Domingue was saved by Muse, Betteridge quickly fired the rebound back towards goal but it hit the front post and slid underneath the Steelers goalie.
Although, the English forward quickly lunged behind the keeper and shot the still visible puck into the goal on 43 minutes.
Despite a video review by the referees, the goal stood as the puck was loose and visible behind Muse, leaving the Steelers a goal behind once more.
Sheffield failed to find another response before time expired and even lost a fifth goal to make it 5-3, as Talbot-Tassi shot into a vacant goal, when the Steelers gambled in the final minutes.
Game 2 Preview
Tonight, is a massive night for both clubs as Nottingham can pull of a great comeback after escaping from being stuck at the bottom of the table, to clinching the trophy in just two matches.
Meanwhile Sheffield need to dig deep and find their dominant performances from before to give themselves a chance in Game 3 but after what shown in Game 1, it is obvious special teams will be key to deciding the outcome again this evening.
Needless penalties cost each side in the first match and if given the opportunity, it is likely both clubs will flex their powerplay units and convert their chances.
However, there are big questions surrounding the choice of netminders in both goals for the next match.
Sheffield can stick with Muse, who let four past him in Game 1 but Aaron Fox may try to shake things up and look to Ben Churchfield or Curtis Warburton, who both played big roles during their previous dominant displays this season.
Whereas, Tim Wallace has to make the call of sticking with Whistle while he is winning or continue to rotate his netminders and give Ben Bowns his turn between the pipes.
Either way, Game 2 will be just as unpredictable, entertaining and electrifying as Game 1.
(Featured Picture: Dean Wooley)
(Header Picture: Karl Denham)