Panthers deny battling Phoenix

Saturday, 31st January 2009

Nottingham Panthers 3 - 2 Manchester Phoenix

In the first of a home and home series against the Nottingham Panthers, a hard-battling performance from the Manchester Phoenix saw them lose out narrowly on Saturday night in the National Ice Centre.

Another bright start by the Phoenix in the Panthers lair saw them put early pressure on Michel Robinson in the home goal with David-Alexandre Beauregard testing him from the left flank. Two quick penalties in succession against the home side gave the visitors a two-man advantage and they use it to good effect in the third minute with Kenton Smith finding Beauregard down low and his pass to the front of the net was lifted into the top corner by Luke Fulghum. Nottingham worked hard trying to get back in to the game quickly and with Fulghum in the penalty box, Stephen Murphy came up with three big saves from Panthers player coach Corey Neilson to see the penalty expire safely. Nottingham were having more possession, but Phoenix always looked dangerous on the break and were unlucky not to double their lead when Adam Walker forced a turnover and Robinson just did enough to prevent a second goal.

The home side started the better in the second period and nearly drew level when Galbraith and Cook broke in 2-on-1 with the latter shooting wide when it looked easier to score. Panthers did draw level shortly afterwards as Richardson found Bergin on the doorstep and he made no mistake from short range. With the home crowd expecting Panthers to take over, they were to be disappointed as the Phoenix continued to enjoy their fair share of the play as both sides swapped powerplay opportunities. Just past the half-hour mark, Luke Fulghum was desperately unlucky to see a right wing shot beat Robinson but hit the post and rebound into play, and as the pace increased Murphy saved well from Molin and Beauregard fired a shot narrowly wide at the other end. Late in the session, with Phoenix shorthanded, a quick counter saw Tony Hand find Beauregard, but again, the scoring attempt went begging and the teams retired to the locker rooms tied after forty minutes.

With the shots on goal count even after two periods, Panthers began to turn up the heat in the final session and Stephen Murphy became the busier goalie making a superb double save from Molin and Tessier as the home side pushed forward. Cook on a long pass went in one-on-one and Murphy again stood firm. Phoenix lost Bruce Mulherin with a broken skate blade and the disruption to the lines played into the Panthers hand as they took the lead in the 52nd minute with James Ferrara firing a long-range shot through traffic with Murphy screened. Two minutes later with Phoenix shorthanded, Panthers player coach Corey Neilson blasted an unstoppable shot from the blueline to make it a two-goal spread. Phoenix battled back hard and gave Nottingham a late scare as they pulled Murphy for the extra skater and Lucas Burnett netted with just 18 seconds left to play.

Phoenix player coach Tony Hand reflected afterwards saying, "The boys played really well tonight and I thought we were a little unlucky as we made some good chances. Walks, Fulgy and Beau could all have scored before they got the lead. We've got them again on Sunday in our barn and hopefully, we'll turn the tables on them on our ice."