The Clan moved one step closer in their fight to reach the finals of the Challenge Cup after a tough fixture against the Panthers.
A record-breaking crowd at Braehead Arena played host to a game that flew back-and-forth right from the get-go.
The action kicked off to an aggressive start, Brock McPherson and Robert Lachowicz almost sending their respective sides onto the score sheets early on. But both were denied in a game that was defined by exceptional goaltending.
Both sides swapped power plays in the first period, but there were no resultant goals from the man-advantage. The Panthers are very mobile on their power plays, with lots of movement in the Clan’s zone making them a constant threat.
Panthers’ Jeff Heerema was promptly removed from action after being struck in the face with the puck; a Braehead staff member later revealed that an ambulance had been called. According to reports, doctors released Heerema to travel back with his team and, though he misses the return leg in Nottingham, he has thankfully avoided serious injury.
It seemed the first goal could come at any second from either side. In the visitors’ best attempt on goal, Danny Meyers rocketed a slapshot from the blue line, but Clan netminder Jaakko Suomalainen managed to get in the way.
Jade Galbraith then received a pass from Clan captain Jordan Krestanovich and sailed round the back of the Panthers net, sneaking the puck in with a wraparound goal against his former team. Panthers netminder Craig Kowalski was not at all pleased with his D-men’s performance.
Onto the second period, which proved to be a goalless one. Despite having two power plays, the Clan were unable to produce any additional goals; it seemed that Nottingham had effectively neutralised what is currently regarded as one of the hottest PP units in the league.
Another injury looked to be on the cards; this time it was Clan player Adam Walker who was down on the ice, clutching his face. Thankfully, Walker was able to skate off by himself and later rejoined the action.
And so the third period began with the score still sitting at 1-0. Nottingham threw the game completely on its head by racking up two goals in the first 3 minutes, first from Clarke and then from Francis. Just like that, the momentum of the game had completely shifted in favour of the visitors.
It looked like they would extend their lead further, too. A torrent of shots were leveled at Suomalainen, and Lachowicz managed to get 1-on-1 with the Finn on the breakaway. He took his shot, but Suoma kept a cool head and saved.
The Clan dug deep and pulled an equaliser out of the bag in a lovely display of teamwork: Walker passed cross-ice to Galbraith, who set up Tim Wedderburn for a shot on goal. Kowalski saved, but the rebounding puck was collected by Drew Bannister and fired into the net.
This second goal really ignited the team; confidence started flowing again and we were once again witnessing a relentless back-and-forth on the ice.
Corey Neilson was sent to the box after a blatant tripping call on the returning Kyle Bruce. And this time, the Clan’s PP proved effective – Brock McPherson took the game to 3-2 with another assist for Krestanovich, 6 minutes remaining in the game.
The Panthers looked certain to bring things even once again; Clarke hit a frankly brilliant shot at the open right side of goal, but Suomalainen somehow managed to get his glove up and make the save.
There were several chances for the visitors as they skirmished with the Clan’s defencemen in front of the net, but they couldn’t quite get the puck past the line. Kowalski was pulled from goal as the seconds counted down, but Braehead managed to clear the puck time and again and secure their victory.
This was as tight a game as they come, and both teams were unlucky not to have more goals on the board.
The Clan’s defence had, without doubt, the best game of their season tonight; Tim Wedderburn in particular was incredibly effective from start to finish, always finding a way to block or turn over the puck.
The exclusion of an injured Mike Bayrack meant the Clan were missing that KGB line magic, but the return of Kyle Bruce helped redress the balance somewhat and Adam Walker had a fine display on the ice – at times it seemed inevitable that the young Brit would score.
With that victory, the Clan’s winning streak increases to 6 games, and they now carry a 1-goal advantage – and bucketloads of confidence – into the return leg at Nottingham. They’re certainly going to need it.
Referee: Moray Hanson
Period Scores: 1-0 / 0-0 / 2-2
Power Play: Braehead 1/4 / Nottingham 0/2
Penalty Mins: Braehead 4 / Nottingham 8
MoM: Braehead #1 Jaakko Suomalainen / Nottingham #17 Matt Francis