Belfast Giants trip up at home as title hopes suffer blow with home defeat to Nottingham Panthers

The Belfast Giants’ Premier Sports Elite League title hopes took a hit on home ice as Christophe Boivin’s third period goal earned the Nottingham Panthers a 4-2 win at the SSE Arena.

or the second time in as many games the Giants blew a lead and, while it didn’t cost them against the Manchester Storm a week ago, this time they were made to pay.

Scott Conway had them two goals ahead inside the opening three minutes and it seemed like things might be a formality, but after that they found Kevin Carr impossible to beat in the Panthers net — he would finish with 33 saves — and instead the visitors would claim the win.

They tied things up with goals either side of the first intermission as Robbie Baillargeon and Edwin Hedberg both struck, and then Boivin finished 5:59 into the final frame off a breakaway with Hedberg for the game-winner, with Matthew Myers adding an empty-netter to seal it.

The Giants struck the frame three times in the dying stages through Sam Ruopp, Jordan Boucher and Mark Cooper, and they had a Tyler Soy goal washed out for a high stick, but it’s a fourth home league loss of the season for Adam Keefe’s side and they missed the chance to pull six points clear at the top.

Instead, they fall to 35-9-2 on the season and stay four points ahead of the Sheffield Steelers, who have two games in hand, and they will need to turn things around quickly for tomorrow’s rematch with the Panthers.

“Energy wasn’t there and our brains weren’t there. Gifted them a couple goals. That’s not the way we play, you can’t gift them goals. That’s now how we’ve had success all year,” said Keefe.

“We deserved to lose tonight, it’s that simple, and it’s gotta be a wake-up call. After that third period in Manchester and then this tonight, it’s a wake-up call.

“It’s not easy to win this league, you’ve gotta turn up every night for the full 60 and if you wanna do it, you wanna win the league, you gotta turn up every night and not enough guys did.

“If you have good character, and I think we do in that locker room, then you show up and you turn that around tomorrow.”

The Giants were off to a flier Brady Norrish was called for a cross-check on Ben Lake right in front of Carr’s net just 58 seconds in, and when a pass from Jordan Boucher found Conway in the right circle, the GB centre made no mistake with the finish at 1:53, and 58 seconds later he made it 2-0 when his shot just beat Carr and was poked into his own net by unfortunate Panthers defenceman Kevin Massy.

But despite dominating the rest of the period, that would be as good as it got for the Giants and, indeed, they would only lead by one at the break as Baillargeon pulled one back at 17:02.

It came only seconds after the home side played out a holding call to Darcy Murphy, Mark Cooper giving the puck away in the defensive zone and the winger snapping in a low finish past Tyler Beskorowany — 21 saves — to make it 2-1 at the break.

And it took the visitors just 1:05 of the middle frame to tie it up, Jeremy Welsh going round the net and passing it back in front for Edwin Hedberg, who beat Beskorowany shortside.

Both goalies had to pull off some impressive saves to keep it level, Beskorowany denying Kevin Domingue on a one-on-one, and then Carr scrambled around to deny first Soy and then Boucher on the rebound, and the Giants managed to kill off another call on Conway, this time a cross-checking minor over the period break, but the dagger blow came 5:59 into the third.

Griffin Reinhart failed to corral a pass along the blue-line from David Goodwin, which allowed Hedberg to break into the Belfast zone and he timed his pass across for Boivin to tap in the game-winner.

Ruopp and Boucher hit the frame of the goal as Belfast pushed for a leveller but, with Beskorowany pulled, Myers found the empty net with 2:10 remaining, despite calls from the Giants for what appeared to be a legitimate offside claim.

And their misery was compounded with 1:15 left on the clock when Soy had a goal ruled out for a high stick that would have set up a grandstand finish as the title race took another twist.

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