Phoenix trail - but have it all to play for

Saturday, 28th March 2009

Nottingham Panthers 6 - 3 Manchester Phoenix

A three goal third period from the Nottingham Panthers set the Manchester Phoenix something of a hill to climb in Sundays' second leg of the playoff quarterfinal, but the Panthers were made to battle every shift for their first leg lead.

An explosive first period in the National Ice Centre on Saturday night saw no fewer that five goals, two shorthanded and plenty of physical play from two sides keen to get to the final four weekend. Nottingham roared out of the starting blocks, hoping to catch the Phoenix cold and tired after so many games recently and they got the perfect start with David Clarke netting the opening goal with less than two minutes having ticked off the clock. Phoenix showed composure after failing to make the most of an early powerplay by equalising shorthanded in the sixth minute with Alex Dunn in the penalty box. A tremendous pass from defence released David-Alexandre Beauregard and when Robinson in the home goal stopped his breakaway shot, Tony Hand was perfectly positioned to capitalise on the rebound. Nottingham came hard again, trying to outwork the Phoenix defence and it was former Phoenix winger Johan Molin who gave them their second lead on the game just before the eight-minute mark. Worse was to come for the Phoenix when awarded a 14th minute powerplay against the Panthers goalie for Delay of Game, Brendan Cook raced away to score shorthanded. The home fans were making the most of their teams early good fortune, but in the final minute of the session, it was Manchester voices cheering as a great pass from Alex Dunn sent Luke Fulghum in one on one with Robinson and he lifted a superb shot over the goalies shoulder to reduce the arrears to a single marker at the first break.

The unrelenting pace of the first period eased only slightly in the second stanza as both teams continued to try and impose domination over the other. Panthers killed penalties on Danny Myers and Ed Hill as the Phoenix put the home side under pressure and goalie Robinson took his second minor of the game from tripping Beauregard in the 33rd minute. Phoenix were unable to make their man advantage special team count when Matt Myers went for High Sticks, but finally, their pressure tolled on the home side when Dan Tessier was penalised for Delay of Game, a call that the home fans wrongly disagreed with. Phoenix camped in the Panthers zone and the equaliser came from David-Alexandre Beauregard as he chipped the puck past Robinson at the second attempt in the 38th minute, assisted by Hand and Fulghum.

Desperate to take a lead from their home leg, the Panthers responded to the Phoenix having dominated the second period and it took a point blank save from Stephen Murphy to deny David Clarke early in the third period. Nottingham edged back into the lead in the 45th minute as Brendan Cook netted his second of the game, but it was still nip and tuck as both sides saw chances go begging to their respective player coaches. Phoenix killed a somewhat harsh looking Tripping penalty on Bruce Mulherin and entering the final ten minutes, the outcome was still in the balance. Panthers gained their second two-goal lead of the game in the 53rd minute as Murphy spilled a shot from Danny Meyers and Dan Tessier tucked home the rebound. The Panthers could sense victory and when Luke Boothroyd was penalised for Hooking in the 54th minute, Tessier made it 6-3 within eight seconds of the re-start. Phoenix kept battling and in the closing minutes, Robinson in the home goal made big saves from Beauregard, Hand and Fulghum to protect his sides lead for the second leg.

Phoenix player coach Tony Hand commented, "It's all to play for on Sunday in the second leg. We knew the Panthers would come out flying and we'd have to absorb a lot of pressure, but at 3-3 after forty minutes, I was hoping we could keep it close or maybe even nick it. They've got the lead and they'll be favourites to make the finals weekend, but my guys have battled adversity, injuries, sickness and an unbelievable schedule to get here - we're not going to give it up without a heck of a fight."

Phoenix play their home leg of the Elite League Playoff quarterfinal on Sunday at the Altrincham Ice Dome with a 5.30pm face-off time.