Blaze fall to first-leg semi-final defeat
The Coventry Blaze will have to overcome a two-goal deficit to make the Elite Series playoff final after Jackson Whistle made 30 saves to backstop the Nottingham Panthers to a 2-0 victory in the first leg of the semi-final.
The Blaze started Shane Owen in goal, and included GB defenceman Paul Swindlehurst in the line-up for the first time in the series following his recovery from injury, with forward Vanya Antonov making way. The Panthers were at full strength, with Whistle starting in goal ahead of Ben Bowns.
A tightly contested first period saw both sides create chances. The Blaze had the first powerplay of the night, after Nick Dineen was called for tripping at 5.18, and had a couple of good looks but couldn't find the net. As the period approached the halfway point, a defensive breakdown by the Blaze presented Ollie Betteridge with a great chance but Owen made a big save. Whistle was then called into action to save from Tristan Keck and Janne Laakkonen wasn't able to pick up the loose puck.
The second period saw Chris Pohlkamp test Whistle inside the first 90 seconds. The Panthers then broke down the ice and, after good play by Christophe Boivin, Kevin Domingue was at the back post to stuff the puck home off a rebound from a Brett Perlini shot at 22.08.
Both netminders were kept busy, with Owen pulling off big saves from Domingue, Mark Garside and Josh Tetlow, who had a great short-handed breakaway chance. At the other end, Whistle made good stops to deny Laakkonen, Simen Andre Edvardsen and Mac Howlett as both teams continued to threaten offensively.
The third period again saw both sides create chances early on. The Panthers came close to adding a second goal in the 47th minute when a scramble in the Blaze goalmouth saw the puck slide past Owen but bounce off Boivin's skate and back under the netminder. Then, at the other end, a snap shot from Keck following a face-off hit the bar.
The Panthers gained some offensive momentum when David Clements was given a two-minute penalty for slashing at 51.18 and converted their increased pressure into a goal when Boivin picked up the puck following a defensive breakdown and fed it to Austin Cangelosi, who fired home at the back door off the post at 55.21.
The Blaze had a great chance to pull a goal back almost immediately, but Luke Ferrara was denied by a good save from Whistle, and the Blaze were unable to break the shutout - the first of the Elite Series.
The Blaze and Panthers will face-off in the second-leg of the Elite Series playoffs semi-final at 7pm on Wednesday.