Review: Panthers end Danish odyssey with heads held high

(PHOTO: Panthers Images)

It wasn’t to be for the Nottingham Panthers as they looked to win the Continental Cup for the second time in four years, but they certainly made a great account of themselves as they left Vojens in Denmark with a silver medal in their back pockets.

Losing on penalty shots to Sønderjyske, the hosts and eventual winners of the competition, on penalty shots and like Belfast Giants last year, they’re left to reflect on what might have been.

Take nothing away from their efforts.  Panthers once again went toe to toe with some good teams with some level of European pedigree and came away flying the Elite League flag proudly on the continent.

It may be a much changed team from the one that won it under Corey Neilson three years ago, but they can take a lot from this experience back into their domestic campaign when it resumes this week.

As for the games, two wins and a penalty shootout loss is a good return especially when the two wins were achieved by not giving up and playing for every minute.  A great attribute for any team to have.

The tournament began on Friday and Panthers going head to head with the hosts for the second time in this competition, after Nottingham beat them 4-2 the last time in a game where Sønderjyske had already qualified.

The background behind it was much different.  A much tighter affair was played out, as was reflected by a goalless first period and for most of the second, until there was a breakthrough.

WATCH: Panthers edged on penalty shots by Sønderjyske

During a four-on-three, Brian Connelly got on the scoreboard with a blue line shot and by the break, despite being heavily outshot, Nottingham were in front.

Kevin Carr was outstanding in goal for the EIHL side and almost held out for the shutout, but Sønderjyske got the leveller with three minutes to go as Steffen Frank getting the final touch on a rebounded McGregor Sharp effort.

Overtime couldn’t separate them and the lottery of penalty shots came, but it was strange that there was an Elite League connection to the ones scored by the Danes that pipped the Panthers to the second point.

Brett Perlini, Sam Herr, Jake Hansen and Connelly couldn’t find a way through goalie NIkolaj Henrikson.  Justin Maylan, who was at Dundee Stars a few weeks ago and Frederik Bjerrum, brother of Glasgow Clan’s Rasmus, converted to seal the victory for the Danes.

There was no time to feel sorry for themselves as Panthers took Cracovia Krakow and showed great character in turning a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 win as captain Sam Herr led by example with the last gasp winner.

Zdenek Bahensky took advantage of Mark Matheson to pass it to Damian Kapica, who put the Poles in front after just over three minutes.

A distance shot from Michal Vachovec after 16 minutes on the powerplay put them two up and caused some concern for the travelling Panthers fans.

WATCH: Herr sinks Krakow with late stunner

Kapica got his second and Krakow’s third early in the middle period to add to the misery and, at least for a couple of minutes, it looked bleak for Tim Wallace’s side.

They started to claw their way back six minutes later as Jake Hansen got on the board to pull it back to 3-1.  The momentum took its time to swing back in Nottingham’s favour, but their threat didn’t diminish.

It took them to 50 minutes before they got their second goal as Ondrej Mikula took a seat for hooking and it gave Panthers what they needed to push for a second goal.

Herr’s shot came loose, allowing Julian Talbot to take advantage and Nottingham were back to within a goal and the pendulum was making its way to Tim Wallace’s outfit.

With five minutes to go Krakow’s Mateusz Bepierszcz went for tripping and once more Panthers capitalised as Herr diverted a shot from Mark Matheson and the game was tied at three.

The Polish side pulled its netminder for a last-minute effort to get the three points, playing one hell of a gamble, but it was an inviting move for Nottingham as Herr scored into the empty net with just one second left.

By the time Nottingham took the ice on Sunday, Sønderjyske had already been confirmed as winners of the Continental Cup after beating Krakow 3-1 and taking seven points from their three games.

WATCH: Nottingham confirm silver with late show over Neman

Panthers went into their game with Neman Grodno of Belarus with the knowledge they could tie the Danes on points if they won their final game, but miss out because of the outcome of Friday’s game.  And so it proved to be.

Artyom Kisly hit the back of the net already after 91 seconds and Roman Malinovski added a second to put Nottingham two goals down after the first period.

Panthers were not going to let this happen again and hit back as Jake Hansen found the net six minutes into the second period.  The joy was short-lived as Kisly added his second at the half hour mark to out Neman in the driving seat.

The fightback began in earnest when Anton Yeliseyenko had just returned from a slashing penalty, but his return didn’t have the immediate impact when Ryan Horvat struck to bring Nottingham to within one.

Three minutes later, Herr had pulled Panthers level and the silver medal started to come into view, but they had to stay firm and focussed and get their reward.

And they got it.  Brett Perlini’s pass from behind the net found Georgs Golovkovs, who scored the game winner with 70 seconds left in regulation time.

It may have been disappointment in not winning the plate again or reaching the Champions Hockey League, but they kept their fans singing in Denmark.  They can be proud of that.

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