Cardiff Devils 5, Nottingham Panthers 5
Captain Joey Martin returned to Cardiff Devils action and marked the occasion by scoring four points.
Martin had been out for a month because of injury and he celebrated by scoring a goal plus three assists in the Challenge Cup semi-final first leg.
The rivals clash in the return leg next Wednesday with the winners on aggregate going through to the final.
“It’s great to be back,” said Martin. “It’s been a frustrating season for me personally having to watch matches.
“We showed a lot of character when Panthers were in front. We n ended a big push and collectively, as a team, we did that.
“There are some areas of our game top reflect on. There were defensive lapses which we have to clean up, but I’m confident in this group. There was some really good compete from the team.”
Martin linked up with Blair Riley and Masi Marjamaki and said: “There are fun guys to play with. They are buzzing. Both of them play the body and create chances. There is some really good chemistry there.”
Devils played well in the first and third periods, but were outscored 3-0 in the second with head coach Andrew Lord saying: “Whatever we did or I did going into the second didn’t work.
“That middle period was ugly and then some. The first was great, we poured it on and generated a lot. Their goalie [Kevin Carr] played great.
“I loved our clawback in the third. We showed what we have inside of us.
“Joey [Martin] was huge for us. We missed him when he was out. He’s had a couple of different spells out injured and it was great to welcome him back.
“He is fresh and fired up. He brings a lot to our game.”
Devils travel to play Fife Flyers in Scotland on Saturday before returning to South Wales for an Elite League match against Panthers. They will then travel to Nottingham for the cup semi-final second leg next Wednesday.”
Panthers coach Tim Wallace and player Ollie Betteridge both outlined the ambition Nottingham have this season, believing they can win every fixture left.
“There are three trophies up for grabs and we have a chance of doing something special,” said Wallace. “We are a confident group if we play the right way.
“We want to win every game and felt we should have come away [from Cardiff] with a win. Now we have to get the job done at home and move on to the final.
“We played pretty solid in the first leg. Special teams were a factor. Cardiff scored a couple of powerplay goals and we didn’t. That kept them in it. Our specials teams weren’t up to par.
“If we play like we did in second for all three periods in Nottingham we will be okay.”
Betteridge said: “We are never def, no matter what happens in any game.
“It’s tight at the top [Elite League] – every game is a play-off style game. We are aiming to win every fixture we play to the end of this season.”
Devils scored four goals in the final period when they battled back to lead 5-4 only for Panthers to net a fifth of their own.
Cardiff opened the scoring on their first powerplay chance. Joey Haddad rifled a shot past goalie Carr to put Devils up 1-0 with eight minutes gone.
The Devils were forced to kill two penalties in a row including a brief moment of a 5 on 3 powerplay for the Panthers but the score remained 1-0 after 20 minutes of play.
The middle period belonged Panthers. Betteridge (22-10), Jacob Hansen (27-05) and Brett Perlini (28-19) scored their goals.
Masi Marjamaki scored at 41-20 and Martin scored on a powerplay at 43-34 to make it 3-3.
Panthers regained the lead at 48-13 through Betteridge but just over two minutes later, Riley replied for Devils to tie the game up at 4-4.
At 52-22 Matt Pope hammered a shot past Carr to give the Devils a 5-4 lead, while Julian Talbot scored for Panthers with just a minute left to make it 5-5.
The winners of this semi-final will play Glasgow Clan or Sheffield Steelers in the final at Cardiff’s Viola Arena on March 8. Steelers lead 5-1 after the first leg against Clan in Scotland.
Both second leg matches are to be played on Wednesday, January 29.
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Scorers, Devils: Joey Martin 1+3, Masi Marjamaki 1+1, Joey Haddad 1+1, Blair Riley 1+0, Matt Pope 1+0, Charles Linglet 0+2, Mark Richardson 0+1, Mike McNamee 0+1, Sean Bentivoglio 0+1
Panthers: Oliver Betteridge 2+0, Jason Hansen 1+0, Brett Perlini 1+0, Julian Talbot 1+0, Ryan Horvat 0+1, Robert Lachowicz 0=1, Dylan Malmquist 0+1, Brian Coinnelly 0+2, Joshua Tetlow 0+1, Guillaume Lepine 0+2, Mark Matheson 0+1
Period scores (Devils first): 1-0; 0-3 (1-3);4-2 (5-5)
Shots on goal: Devils (on Kevin Carr) 16+13+17=46; Panthers (on Ben Bowns) 11+17+7=35
Penalties in minutes: Devils 4+0+6=10; Panthers 2+0+6=8
Powerplays: Devils 3, Panthers 4
Face-offs won: Devils 33, Panthers 30
Referees: Matt Thompson, Stefan Hogarth
Goalies: Ben Bowns (Thomas Murdy)
First line: Gleason Fournier,Mark Richardson, Charles Linglet, Stephen Dixon, Joey Haddad
Second line: Sam Jardine, Bryce Reddick, Masi Marjamaki, Joey Martin, Blair Riley
Third line: Mark Louis, Sean McMonagle, Sean Bentivoglio, Mike McNamee, Matt Pope
Fourth line: Toms Rutkis, Matthew Myers, Josh Batch