Click here for other games being covered
|Challenge Cup Final First Leg|
23rd January 2008
|Referee: A Carson|
|Match complete||Nottingham Panthers|
|1 : 1 : 1 = 3||Goals||0 : 2 : 4 = 6|
|17 : 12 : 13 = 42||Shots||4 : 6 : 11 = 21|
|0 : 2 : 4 = 6||Penalties in Minutes||4 : 4 : 12 = 20|
Challenge Cup Final First leg
Sheffield without goalie Jody Lehman who's wife, Raquel, went into labour today one week earlier than expected. Warren Tait is still absent with his fractured cheekbone. Dan Tessier makes his debut on his return to the club. Nottingham without Robert Stancok.
4630 saw Panthers take a commanding three goal lead into the second leg of the Challenge Cup Final. Sheffield paid a high price in the final period for failing to beat the impressive Tom Askey earlier in the game, whilst back-up goalie Davey Lawrence was left woefully exposed and Panthers took full advantage. Nearly a month ago the tables were reversed with Askey unavailable and Steelers could only edge the game on penalty shots 3-2. How Panthers taught them a lesson in finishing tonight, as Kevin Bergin plundered three and Sean McAslan added another two. Yet it could have all been so different in a torrid opening session in which Askey, and some horrendous finishing, allowed Panthers to reach the interval just one goal down.
Doug Sheppard deflected Randy Dagenais' right wing shot home (1:49) for the only goal of the first, but Panthers went ahead when Sean McAslan burst down the left to rifle home (22:52) and Kevin Bergin was on hand to deflect Corey Neilson's pass cum shot from the right point (28:26) with Ian Manzano sitting a tripping penalty. But McAslan and Neilson turned villains when they took roughing and slashing penalties just 6 seconds apart and Talbot whipped the loose puck home to Askey's left (34:44).
Four goals from seven shots in the final session gave Panthers that huge advantage. McAslan burst down the right and his pass inside looked to be an easy clearance for Rod Sarich but instead Bergin plundered a shot past the startled Lawrence (40:17). Three goals arrived in less than three minutes as Bergin was allowed oceans of space to rifle a bullet from 12 feet (49:59). Jeff Legue got away up the right and Rob Dowd got on the end of his pass (51:43) to flick the puck to Askey's left, but Ryan Shmyr netted off the pipes from the left circle (52:21) to kill off the revival. Before the game restarted Shmyr earned himself a misconduct penalty for incitement and headed for an early bath. But that man Bergin wasn't finished and after Lawrence blocked his shot at the left post, he whipped the puck out front for McAslan to lift the puck home high in a scramble (54:35), Manzano again in the box this time for holding.
But really it should have been over as a game in that first period with Joey Talbot and Jason Hewitt (twice each), Jeff Legue and Ryan Finnerty all having excellent chances to extend that one goal lead. 80 seconds after Sheppard scored Joey Talbot should have doubled the lead but lost his footing after a superb passing move found him arriving at the back post. With Mike Ellis taking an Elbows penalty in a prolonged spell of pressure Tessier rifled the puck into the side net, with Askey making saves from Talbot, Sarich (2) and Legue before Ellis returned. Nine minutes in, Sean McAslan wristed a shot but Lawrence saved comfortably.
Legue burst up the centre and despite the attentions of Corey Neilson which earned the defender a slashing minor, got through on Askey but the goalie never looked like being beaten as Legue went close-in and right. As Neilson stepped out of the box Manzano's left point shot was padded to Finnerty on the doorstep but he couldn't force the puck home.
Back at full strength Tait got up the left wing and, when Askey turned aside the shot, his quick pass found Tessier but Askey made the save. Talbot and Dowd were blanked before Mark Richardson backhanded a shot at Lawrence from close in. McAslan's weak shot was easily turned aside, but how Hewitt put the rebound wide at the back post from Jonathan Phillips' shot only he will know.
The middle session opened at a less frentic pace. Phillips again found Hewitt at the back post but Askey shut the door and blocked the rebound, and instead Myers released McAslan up the left wing and he buried his shot past Lawrence (22:52). Matt Myers was upended stickhandling his way to the net and Manzano sat the tripping minor. Sheffield were killing the penalty comfortably but Sheppard failed to clear his end. Neilson kept it in and rifled the puck to the far post where Kevin Bergin helped it past Lawrence for a shock lead (28:26).
Sheffield's 5 on 3 arrived with less than 7 minutes left in the middle session. Askey denied Legue and Sarich. Tessier low on the right threaded the puck to Ashley Tait but he fluffed his shot and instead the puck dropped at Talbot's feet and he made no mistake.
A woeful start to the final period saw Bergin out-muscle Sarich to beat Lawrence at point-blank range. Neilson's tripping penalty saw another huge save from Askey as he denied Tait at his right post after the puck was threaded across from the front of the net. Legue was denied three times, with Phillips and McAslan also testing the keepers.
With 10 minutes remaining Bergin doubled the lead from Molin's pass inside from the right boards. Dowd forced the puck in from Legue's left wing break to reduce the arrears but before the home side could gather any momentum Shmyr restored the two goal advantage from the left wing with another booming shot. Panthers were flying now and Molin forced another stop. With Steelers being overwhelmed in their own end Manzano took a holding penalty after denying Levers almost on the goal line, but his efforts were in vain when the defence failed to deal with Bergin's flick back from behind the net and McAslan really couldn't miss.
Sheffield have a stiff task ahead of them to win this final, but with Lehman back and some sharper finishing, it is still not beyond them when the sides meet in Nottingham on 20th February.
Reports used with permission
Views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of ih-update.co.uk
No responsibility accepted for accuracy of information