Steve Owre and Darik Angeli struck Adam Keefe’s side to a 0-2 lead by the half hour mark, but a double from Jeremy Welsh and a third from Brett Welychka completed a Panthers comeback on home ice.
The first period of six in the two-legged Challenge Cup Quarter final between the Nottingham Panthers and Belfast Giants had little separating the sides, other than penalties.
Belfast fanned on an early power play when Kelly Summers was called for interference after just 1:46.
The Panthers had a chance to respond at 10:14 when Matt Foley took a seat for slashing, but the Giants' kill unit looked solid in their only outing of the period.
Nottingham escaped damage on a Michael Caruso holding call at 15:26, but their penalty troubles cost them with just 10 seconds remaining in the period when Steve Owre struck Belfast’s opener as Jeremy Welsh sat for tripping at 19:15. (0-1)
The Giants threatened throughout the first ten of the period and were rewarded at 29:18 when Darik Angeli crossed the blue line and ripped a shot past Panthers’ goalie Alex Dubeau from the left on a 2-on-1 chance. (0-2)
Adam Brady thought he had pulled one back for the hosts mid-period, but despite his celebrations the referees were adamant that the puck had not crossed the line.
However, there was no ambiguity moments later when a ferocious one timer from Jeremy Welsh sailed past Giants goalie Jackson Whistle from the edge of the right circle at 30:34. (1-2)
The game opened up for the remainder of the period, with both sides trading blows and Scott Conway coming close on an effort which left a fully outstretched Dubeau down in his crease for an extended spell.
Giants special teams turned away a Will Cullen interference penalty at 41:43, but Jeremy Welsh struck a stunning one-timer from the right at 45:07 for the equaliser, and his second of the game. (2-2)
Tanner Sorenson sent the Panthers back onto the kill with an interference call of his own at 46:38, but the score remained unchanged despite Gabe Bast going coast to coast and ringing the iron.
Brett Welychka knocked home the go-ahead goal for the hosts just six seconds into another power play as Cullen returned to the box for interference at 50:29. (3-2)
The Giants surged in the closing minutes, punctuated by a time-out called by Adam Keefe with 1:45 on the clock, but the Panthers held on to take a one goal lead into the second leg in Belfast on 4th January.
The Stena Line Belfast Giants’ road trip continues this weekend with a visit the Manchester Storm on Saturday 17th (7:00pm) and the Coventry Blaze on Sunday 18th (5:30pm). Ticketing information for our stretch of Christmas home games back at The SSE Arena, Belfast can be found HERE!