By Kris Smith
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Game 14: Nottingham Panthers 4 Sheffield Steelers 0
The weekend’s action was kicked-off with rivalry night as the Panthers and Steelers clashed once more and this time there would be a few surprises instore.
Unlike in their last meeting when Sheffield had a 3-0 lead in less than three minutes and were 5-0 up after the first period, Nottingham took advantage of an early chance.
On the three minute mark, Brett Perlini found himself with the puck and in an advanced position, bearing down on Ben Churchfield’s net and the Panther swiftly stuck his shot between the legs of the dropping goaltender.
Nottingham continued to dictate the play for the opening half of the first period and by the 10th minute, found themselves in a position to double their lead.
After a quick break down the ice, the Panthers quickly got themselves position in the Sheffield end and with the puck in the corner, Perlini quickly fed a pass into the middle of zone, where Christophe Boivin was waiting to hit the puck first-time into the top corner.
The home team did not ease up at that point and within three minutes found another goal.
This time it was a quick transition combined with fast-passing that unravelled the Steelers defence, as Robert Lachowicz and Oliver Betteridge worked the puck towards goal before the latter teed up Mark Matheson to fire past Churchfield.
That third goal also spelled end for the young British netminder, as he conceded three from eight shots in less than 13 minutes, although it did mean the Steelers other young GB shot-stopper, Curtis Warburton would make his debut.
However, his hopes of a clean sheet in his first game were soon dashed by Boivin, as he turned home after 18 minutes to make it 4-0, with the Panthers punishing another defensive mistake.
Despite their dreadful start, the league-leaders looked a different side in the second period and by the 37th minute, they were on the board.
Just eight seconds into a powerplay, as Austin Cangelosi sat in the Nottingham box for holding, Jason Hewitt found a way past Ben Bowns and by the start of the third period, Sheffield were hunting the Panthers down.
Aaron Fox’s men then cut the lead to two goals as Josef Mikyska slipped a shot through the legs of Bowns on 46 minutes and the visitors set up an intense final 90 seconds, when Liam Kirk made it a one-goal game in the final minutes.
The young Brit hit a one-timer from the blueline that made its way through traffic and into the back of the net but Tim Wallace’s side held onto their slender advantage and claimed their first win over Sheffield this season.
Game 15: Coventry Blaze 4 Nottingham Panthers 3 OT
Saturday night saw the Panthers play again but this time they were the visitors against Coventry Blaze, who were trying to chase down the league-leading Sheffield.
After a quiet start to the first period, the West Midlands club finally broke the stalemate in the 17th minute as Tristan Keck netted his eighth goal of the season.
There would then be another long wait for the next goal and it did not come until the final minutes of the second period, as Christophe Boivin drew Nottingham level with 62 seconds left on the clock.
The late equaliser from Tim Wallace’s men looked to have set up a tense third period but with only 11 seconds remaining, Keck bagged his brace to restore the Blaze’s lead.
Danny Stewart’s side would then bag the crucial next goal as Luke Ferrara converted on the powerplay to punish the Panthers’ Kevin Domingue, who was sin binned for tripping in the 49th minute.
However, Nottingham were then awarded a man advantage of their own after Ross Venus was penalised for hooking and it quickly became a five-on-three powerplay, when Nicolai Bryhnisveen was caught tripping up an opponent.
Despite Coventry’s big momentum swing after their third goal, the Panthers were now in a position to turn the tide and that’s just what they did on 52 minutes, as Austin Cangelosi beat Jordan Hedley in the Blaze goal.
With the home team leading 3-2, it all came down to the final few minutes and with just over four minutes to play, the next goal was scored and it would be massive for either side.
The critical goal went the way of the Panthers and Mark Matheson had tied the game at 3-3 in the 56th minute.
Neither side would be able to squeeze in one more before the end of regulation, so overtime was required to decide the outcome but it did not last long, as winner was found after just 93 seconds.
Ross Venus was able to get the puck past Ben Bowns to win the extra point for Coventry and draw them level on points with the league leaders, who could move clear again on Sunday.
Game 16: Sheffield Steelers 2 Manchester Storm 3
Sheffield needed another win to protect their lead at the top the Elite Series table but found themselves 1-0 down after nine minutes.
Maxime Fortier intercepted a pass at the Steelers blueline and got straight through on goal, where he beat Curtis Warburton with a low shot to his right.
Ryan Finnerty’s men held their lead until the first break but would not be able to supress the home side when they had a man advantage.
With Manchester’s Ben Davies in the penalty box for holding his opponents stick, Josef Mikyska snuck a quick wrist shot down the nearside of Sean Bonar to tie the score on 32 minutes.
The two sides were then inseparable until late in the third period when the Storm regained their lead with a powerplay goal.
In the 54th minute, Andreas Klavestad hit a slapshot from the blueline that was deflected by a Sheffield stick on its way to goal, before then bouncing off both posts and across the line.
Just when the Steelers needed to find a response, they found themselves in more penalty trouble with Mikyska picking up two minors for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct on 56 minutes.
That then allowed the Storm to extend their lead with less than three minutes to play, as Tyson Fawcett fed a pass across goal for Ciaran Long to tap in at the backdoor.
Now 3-1 ahead, it was impossible to see Manchester not winning with only minutes of the match remaining.
However, a shorthanded goal for Sheffield with 56 seconds left to play, gave the Storm something to sweat over and their last minute hoorah was scored by Kevin Schulze.
Brendan Connolly’s pass played Sondre Olden clean through past two Storm defenders, he then dragged the puck to his right and pulled Bonar away from his goal before dropping the puck back for the arriving Schulze to smash home.
Despite the late pressure and Sheffield going with an extra attacker, Manchester held firm to clinch two vital points and that resulted in there being only three points separating top to bottom in the standings after eight games played.
(Featured and Banner Pictures: Dean Wooley)