The Belfast Giants saw their Grand Slam dreams dashed as the Nottingham Panthers came from behind to win the Challenge Cup final 7-6 on aggregate after dominating the second leg 5-1.
They then went on to retain the trophy on penalties after Petr Kalus was the only player to score with Jeffrey Szwez, Kevin Saurette and Craig Peacock all missing for the Giants.
It was hugely disappointing after Paul Adey’s side had taken a 5-2 lead into Tuesday night’s clash in Nottingham but they never showed any of the form that has seen them dominate the league this season.
The first period saw a number of penalties and the home team took advantage with two powerplay goals.
The opener came at 4:07 after the Giants were called for too many men on the ice, A shot from the blue line rebounded off the back boards and right onto the stick of Lynn Lyons who couldn’t miss with netminder Stephen Murphy out of position.
While the Giants couldn’t capitalise with their man advantage the Panthers did so again at 15:23. Given far too much time to pass the puck around they eventually picked out a pass to Kalus in front of the Giants net and he buried the opportunity.
The Giants played much better in the second period and got on the scoreboard at 26:53.
Playing four-on-four hockey Chris Higgins picked the puck skated into the high slot and his pass was deflected past Panthers goalie Craig Kowalski by defenceman Jeff Mason who had jumped up into the play.
With a two-goal lead re-established in the tie the Giants were finally looking more comfortable but then gave up a soft goal at 35:28 to once again put themselves under pressure.
Leigh Salters shot from the left circle should have been easy for Murphy but he couldn’t squeeze the puck and it was poked loose and Eric Werner tapped it into the empty net and the officials turned away Giants complaints that Murphy was impeded.
The third period didn’t get any better for the Giants as the Panthers levelled the aggregate score at 6-6 at 48:16, once again on the powerplay when Matt Ryan scored from the left point with no pressure on him from the penalty killers.
Somehow the Giants saw out the remainder of regulation with Murphy’s pad save with 26 seconds to go giving them a shot in overtime.
Even in the extra period they had to kill a penalty on another horrible call on Sandrock but neither side could find the back of the net, so it went to the lottery of penalties and the Panthers didn’t falter.