The Belfast Giants will take a three-goal advantage into the second leg of the Elite League Challenge Cup Final after beating the Nottingham Panthers 5-2 on Friday night at the Odyssey Arena.
It’s a solid lead but could have easily been more and Paul Adey’s side will know they still have 60 minutes of hard work ahead of them in Tuesday night’s return in the National Ice Centre.
A huge crowd of over 6,300 packed got the first period they were wishing for.
The Giants took the lead shorthanded at 7:14 when Craig Peacock led an odd man rush, looked off the pass to Darryl Lloyd and wristed a shot high over the glove of Panthers netminder Craig Kowalski.
The home team doubled their advantage on the powerplay with 49 seconds remaining in the opening session.
After Petr Kalus had taken a dumb boarding penalty on Davy Phillips, charging from the bench across the ice to check him hard into the boards, it took just 12 seconds with the man advantage for Chris Higgins to slip the puck through the crease to Peacock who buried it. At 22:13 it became 3-0 on a clean breakaway when Jeffrey Szwez pulled the puck to his backhand and roofed it past Kowalski.
Robert Farmer put the visitors on the board with a deflected shot that handcuffed Stephen Murphy at 23:53 but just 14 seconds later the Giants restored their three goal lead when Dustin Whitecotton and Szwez combined to give Colin Shields the empty net to shoot into.
It became 5-1 at 26:25 when Jeff Mason returned to the ice after serving a penalty and his shot forced a rebound from Kowalski and Lloyd was there to bang it home.
But the Panthers wouldn’t go away and Jonathan Weaver made it 5-2 at the second intermission with an assist going to referee Michael Hicks who impeded Phillips as he was trying to clear the puck.
The two sides meet again at the Odyssey on Saturday evening as they finish off their respective league campaigns.