Nottingham Panthers 3, Cardiff Devils 4
Devils won 9-8 on aggregate
Cardiff Devils booked their place in the Challenge Cup final – and they will have home advantage against Sheffield Steelers at the Viola Arena.
Captain Joey Martin and his Devils hit back from 3-1 down in the second leg to win and earn a place in the final, to be played in Cardiff Bay on Sunday, March 8 (4pm).
“That was magical,” said delighted Devils coach Andrew Lord. “Emotion, passion and the way the guys set about the challenge.
“In the quarter-final against Belfast Giant we played arguably a perfect game. This performance against Panthers was anything but.
“Nottingham came at us for most of two periods, but our third was superb.
“There is a lot of belief and know-how in our team.
“To a man the guys care so much for our club and the jersey. It was a total team effort on the road against a very good Nottingham team. Credit to the guys. It was really fun.”
Devils scored three goals in four minutes 23 seconds (50-07, 52-13, 54-30) to secure their place in the final with Joey Haddad, Martin and Matt Pope on target.
“We weren’t smart in the third,” said Panthers coach Tim Wallace. “It’s tough to swallow. Devils chipped everything and went hard. We couldn’t handle it.
“It seemed Cardiff wanted it more than us.”
Devils were 3-1 down with 10 minutes left. Brett Bulmer scored twice for Panthers, his first at 5-39 and his second a powerplay at 13-44. Haddad pulled one back at 16-37 with a blast on the powerplay by Haddad to make it 2-1, but the middle period belonged to Panthers with Ryan Horvat banging in a rebound to give the home team a 3-1 lead at 24-09.
The first 10 minutes of the final period made it look like Nottingham were going to hold on for the win, but an ugly goal at 50-07, when the bounced off a Panthers defender and went in to give Cardiff new life.
The goal was credited to Haddad, his second of the night, and just over two minutes later Blair Riley fed Masi Marjamaki for a one-timer and although his shot was saved, he somehow tipped the puck out front to Martin, who fired the puck into the net
The teams were locked on 8-8 on aggregate and Devils were not to be denied and scored on 54-30. Sean Bentivoglio’s shot was saved, but the rebound went onto the stick of Matt Pope who netted to make it 4-3 with 5-30 left to.
Panthers pressed, but couldn’t find the tying goal and Devils held on for one of the best comebacks in recent history.
Ben Bowns saved his best for the final period, stopping two breakaways and a total of 37 shots on the night for a huge win.
D-man Shaone Morrisonn was back in action, having recovered from a minor injury, while Charles Linglet missed the match in Nottingham.
In the second semi-final Sheffield Steelers won 9-1 against Glasgow Clan over two legs (5-1 and 4-0).
Cardiff face two critical Elite League matches this weekend when they have back-to-back fixtures against Belfast Giants in Northern Ireland on Saturday and Sunday.
Following their Giants’ mission, Cardiff have three of their next four fixtures at home. They play Coventry Blaze at the Viola Arena on Saturday, February 15 before taking on Guildford Flames away the next evening.
Fife Flyers come to South Wales on Wednesday, February 19 before Flames play Devils in Cardiff Bay on Saturday, February 22.
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Match stats, Panthers v Devils:
Scorers, Panthers: Brett Bulmer 2+0, Ryan Horvat 1+0, Oliver Betteridge 0+1, Dylan Malmquist 0+2, Joshua Tetlow 0+1, Brian Connelly 0+1, Robert Lachowicz 0+1
Devils: Joey Haddad 2+0, Joey Martin 1+1, Matt Pope 1+0, Sean McMonagle 0+2, Masi Marjamaki 0+1, Sean Bentivoglio 0+1, Blair Riley 0+1, Gleason Fournier 0+1, Sam Jardine 0+1
Period scores (Panthers first): 2-1; 1-0 (3-1); 0-3 (3-4)
Shots on goal: Panthers (on Ben Bowns) 17+13+8=40, Devils (on Kevin Carr) 18+7+20=40
Penalties in minutes: Panthers 2+2+4=8; Devils 2+6+4=12
Face-offs won: Panthers 22, Devils 26
Referees: Liam Sewell, Andy Dalton
Goalies: Ben Bowns (back-up Thomas Murdy)
First line: Gleason Fournier, Mark Richardson, Masi Marjamaki, Joey Martin, Blair Riley
Second line: Sean McMonagle, Mark Louis, Matt Pope, Mike McNamee, Sam Duggan
Third line: Sam Jardine, Shaone Morrisonn, Sean Bentivoglio, Stephen Dixon, Joey Haddad
Fourth line: Josh Batch, Matthew Myers, Bryce Reddick