A hot start to Wednesday’s encounter would have levelled the playing field and neutralised the added danger of aggregate scoring, with Nottingham arriving one goal to the good after winning the first leg 3-2 before Christmas.
However, Belfast were faced with an uphill battle as Scott Conway (interference, 0:13), Jeff Baum (delay of game, 4:28) and Lewis Hook (high sticking, 8:32) headed to the box in rapid succession, before Tanner Sorenson struck an opener for the Panthers at 10:35. (2) 0-1 (4)
Things went from bad to worse after the drop as recently returning Giants defenceman Josh Roach sat for hooking at 11:14, and the visitors wasted no time in extending their lead when Adam Brady beat Jackson Whistle at 11:57. (2) 0-1 (5)
Brady’s slashing call at 13:58 provided the home side with a reprieve, but it was his teammate Craig Puffer’s reckless hit on Will Cullen in front of the benches which provided a tangible momentum shifter.
Puffer was assessed a 5+Game for checking to the head and the Giants players, and the packed stands at The SSE Arena, began to rally.
The prolific Scott Conway struck one back on the power play for the home side at 18:12, sending the crowd into raptures.
Panthers goalie Alex Dubeau took 2 for tripping at 25:39, but despite the best offensive efforts of a (thankfully uninjured) Will Cullen, the visitors made the kill.
A forced turnover in the neutral zone by Donovan Neuls sent the Giants off to the races at 30:34, when a drop pass to Darik Angeli found Ciaran Long cutting up the inside to restore the one goal game. (4) 2-2 (5)
The Giants rode their momentum and poured forward again, with Scott Conway’s shot catching the blade of Captain David Goodwin in the mid slot to tie the game on aggregate at 34:44. (5) 3-2 (5)
They weren’t finished there, as a battling Lewis Hook would his way along the edge of the crease, dodging Panthers jerseys before unleashing the go ahead goal at 36:25. (6) 4-2 (5)
Belfast were resolute as the third period began with a successful penalty kill on Ben Lake’s hooking call at 38:02.
The final nail was hammered in at 55:08 when Cullen was one again the set up man- this time finding David Gilbert in front of goal to extend the aggregate cushion to two. (7) 5-2 (5)
Panthers goalie Alex Dubeau headed for the bench with two minutes and change left, and head coach Corey Neilson called his time out with 90 seconds to go. But Belfast rallied in their zone, sending puck after puck over the blue line to stamp their ticket to the Challenge Cup Semi Final.
The Stena Line Belfast Giants are back at The SSE Arena, Belfast this Friday 6th January at 7:00pm as the Dundee Stars come to town in ViaPlay Elite League action. Tickets are on sale HERE!