ICE HOCKEY: Giants made to work to reach Cup final

Belfast Giants Sebastien Sylvestre celebrates scoring against the Nottingham Panthers during Wednesday nights Challenge Cup Semi-Final (2nd leg) game at the SSE Arena. William Cherry/Presseye
Belfast Giants Sebastien Sylvestre celebrates scoring against the Nottingham Panthers during Wednesday nights Challenge Cup Semi-Final (2nd leg) game at the SSE Arena. William Cherry/Presseye

The Belfast Giants are through to the Challenge Cup final after completing a 12-7 aggregate win over the Nottingham Panthers with a 7-6 victory at the SSE Arena last night.

However, Adam Keefe’s side had to work hard for it, despite carrying a 5-1 lead into the semi-final second leg game.

The last thing the Giants needed was to concede an early goal but that’s what they did as David Clarke fired the puck low into the net after fewer than five minutes.

But the Giants delivered the perfect response when, four minutes later, great work by Brendan Connolly set up Sebastian Sylvestre, who netted the equaliser.

On 13:11, Blair Riley made it 2-1 on the night and 7-2 on aggregate when when he scored on a power-play.

However, 25 seconds later, Nottingham tied things up as Mike Vaskivuo tipped in a shot from Yann Sauve to make it 2-2.

The Panthers went into the first intermission with the lead after Clarke got his second of the night after converting a cross-ice pass from Mark Derlago.

Four minutes into the second period, a mistake by Spiro Goulakos, who had lost possession, was punished by Zack Phillips, who made it 4-2.

Giants’ fans were made even more nervy under 11 minutes later when Brett Perlini scored at the far post to beat Chris Truehl, deputising for Jackson Whistle in the home goal to make it a one-goal tie.

However, the relief was palpable when the hosts scored twice in quick succession shortly before the second intermission to make the Panthers’ task even more difficult going into the final 20 minutes.

On 37:33, superb work by David Rutherford behind the net provided the opportunity for Riley to apply the finish from in front of the goal.

Then with just five seconds left in the period, Sylvestre got his second goal of the night when he tipped in a Colin Shields’ shot to make it 4-5 on the night and 9-6 on aggregate.

Two minutes into the final session, the Giants made the tie virtually safe when Connolly’s persistence left Shields with an easy task of finding the empty-net after a fortunate bounce of the puck.

Derlago pulled one back to reduce the margin to three overall but two empty-net goals from Jonathan Ferland in the last 10 minutes sealed the Giants win after the Panthers had thrown caution to the wind by withdrawing their goalie in a last throw of the dice.