A dominant performance from the Guildford Flames at the Spectrum on Wednesday night has heaped yet more misery on the indisciplined Nottingham Panthers as their poor run of form continues.
It took just 17 seconds for the first of the 8 minor penalties called against Nottingham, a slashing call on Bolduc. As his penalty was expiring, in a moment of madness he got his stick on a loose puck whilst still inside the penalty box, drawing an interference call – An opportunity the Flames powerplay didn’t waste a second time, as Jamie Crooks tipped Eric Lindhagen’s shot past Garnett.
The Flames had the better of the first period overall, but with 3:53 remaining, Mark Hurtubise, was quickest to react to a loose puck to level the score.
The Flames didn’t let their heads drop and forechecked hard. With 1:26 left on the clock, TJ Foster picked out Lindhagen, who quite literally bundled the puck over the line to restore the lead. Lindhagen’s fall into the puck, then the goal itself resulted in a Panthers bench request for a review, and following a look at the laptop, Matt Thompson signalled it as a good goal.
With just 19 seconds left in the period, a Crooks slash meant a powerplay for the Panthers and a moment’s lapse saw Alex Guptill enter the zone unchallenged, make his way towards Carrozzi and tie the game with 4 seconds to go.
The key to the game was the second period, and Guildford’s ability to banish the ghosts of the past 5 games which saw them concede 9 second period goals in total, and they had appeared to do so, coming out strong once again.
Bolduc then picked up his 3rd penalty of the night, and just 20 seconds later a Henderson slash saw the Flames go on a long 5-on-3.
It took just 22 seconds for the Flames to retake the lead, as Watters capitalised on a Reddick rebound.
The Panthers were unable to take advantage of a powerplay following a trip by Ackered, and soon after came the play of the night:
Good stick work along the boards saw Foster retain possession again 2 men inside the Flames zone and pass to Ferguson. Ferguson fired up ice without hesitation to Jamie Crooks, who controlled first time, putting himself 1-on-1 with Garnett, where he duly doubled the Flames advantage with just under a minute left in the period.
Into the third, and after multiple single faceoff violations throughout the game, Luke Pither was called for a double violation after just 40 seconds. A confident powerplay unit applied pressure and Ben Davies was able to shoot into an unguarded net following a huge rebound from a TJ Foster shot to pick up the fifth and final goal of the evening.
Flames Head Coach Paul Dixon: “I don’t think we could have come out with a better result than we did tonight.
“The first game of a cup semi is really about keeping yourself in with a good chance in the 2nd leg, and we achieved more than we probably expected in that regard.
“The score in the past few games has not always reflected what we have done on the ice, but tonight a really strong 60 minute effort by everyone shows in the final box tally and there is no question we are excited to be able to take this into leg 2.
“Having said that, it is not a massive lead so this series is not over by any means and when the time comes to pay the return visit we will need to be ready for another good effort if we are going to grab a spot in the final.”
Panthers Head Coach Rick Strachan: “I thought from the start to the end we played poor. We made bad decisions with the puck and without the puck, We took needless penalty after penalty and it’s got to stop because it kills us every game.
“They punished us tonight with three powerplay goals. The only positive I can take out of this is that we’ve still got three periods to play.
“We came out flat and credit to Guildford, they skated circles around us and made us look silly at times.”
For the Panthers, there is still no end in sight to their bad run, which now stands at 15 losses in their last 20 games. They were still in the game at the end of the first, but couldn’t keep their discipline and could not keep up with the fast pace of the Flames. 12 shots in the first dropped to 8 in the second, and in the third the fight had gone, with just 4 shots on the Flames net. The Flames more than doubled the Panthers shot count with 46 shots on Garnett overall.
Guptill fought until the end, as did man of the match Hurtubise, but the Panthers look a million miles away form the team which put 8 past Guildford in December.
The biggest disappointment overall to the Panthers fans will be Chris Stewart, who not only stood and admired the rest of the team skating in the warmup rather than getting involved too much himself, but who’s only contribution was a shot from behind the goal to force a rebound from Carrozzi, but with no teammates to pick it up. If his performances continue to be more NIHL than NHL, then it’s hard to see how he can remain on the team.
This weekend their only game sees the league topping Cardiff Devils come to the Motorpoint, and they are coming off the back of 10 wins in a row. One of those wins went to overtime though, and that was against the Panthers.
This will be a rare game which will not only be streamed from the Motorpoint, but will be free to watch right here!
Guildford will be hoping that this excellent display will be the turning point of the season. Captain Jesse Craige played with newfound confidence and lead from the front. Calle Ackered was afforded the space to fire shot after shot for the first time in weeks, and you could see he was enjoying himself out there. Jez Lundin was calm and collected alongside Jordan Abt, and Baldwin and Lindhagen excelled once more, with Baldwin being the pick of the defenders.
Baldwin was the only player switched on mid-way through the first to Luke Pither on the blue line, preventing what would have been a breakaway chance to take the lead with the scores tied. His pokechecking was near perfect, not just separating the carrier from the puck, but also pushing the puck back out of the zone in a single move to disperse the attacking threat on more than one occasion.
Up top, the talk of the night was once again the second line. Jamie Crooks picked up the man of the match award for his 2 goals, but Brett Ferguson was a threat all night, picking up 3 assists and linemate T.J Foster lived up to his pre-match billing and worked hard on the wing, creating chances out of nothing, and using his speed to drag the Panthers defence out of position to open up lanes for others. The result of this? 4 assists.
Next up at the Spectrum are the Coventry Blaze on Saturday, and the Flames will be looking to avoid a repeat of their last couple of encounters, which saw a total of 25 goals and a shootout. But rather than focusing on that, they need to rekindle their Cup mindset once more and use the result against the Panthers as the turning point in the race for the playoffs.
A trip to Glasgow follows the next night, and the Flames will be looking to extend their unbeaten run against the Clan, before welcoming the Sheffield Steelers to the Spectrum on Wednesday in front of the Freesports cameras.