Nottingham Panthers beat Cardiff Devils

By Owen PhillipsBBC Sport at the National Ice Centre

Nottingham Panthers retained their Elite League play-off crown and sealed a double double as they beat Cardiff Devils 2-0 in a cagey final that sprung to life in a thrilling finale.

David-Alexandre Beauregard's strike seemed to be all that was needed for the reigning Challenge Cup holders.

He reacted brilliantly to break the deadlock with seven minutes left.

Devils pressed in the closing stages but David Clarke's empty-net strike sealed Nottingham's victory.

Panthers, who also beat Devils in last season's showpiece final to complete the first double, cranked up the pressure in an impressive final period that finally brought the excitement and goal-threat that the 6,000-plus hockey fans so desperately craved.

The game failed to come anywhere near matching the entertainment of the 2011 season finale, or Saturday's goal-laden semi-finals.

But a fiercely fought contest was intriguing from the start despite 53 goalless minutes.

A nervy, goalless first period started promisingly but became increasingly tense and that pattern continued until the latter stages of the final session.

Panthers began far brighter in a feisty first few minutes with Clarke, who grabbed a hat-trick in the 10-3 demolition of play-off debutants Hull Stingrays, denied early on by Cardiff goalie Stevie Lyle.

Soon after Lyle was again called into action, this time producing the save of the session to tip away a Jordan Fox effort.

But, after Nottingham's initial burst, Devils settled and Craig Kowalski was the busier netminder for the remainder of the period.

In truth most of his saves were standard fare from distance, with Cardiff's best opening failing to produce a strike on goal when Adam Harding completely missed his strike when perfectly placed.

The second period was less frantic but, like the first, lacked real clearcut openings.

Panthers once again had the better of the early exchanges.

A clever backhand attempt from Matt Francis was blocked by Lyle who knew little about it as the puck hit his shoulder and went over.

And excellent stickwork by Fox cutting in from the right forced Lyle into a messy but effective block.

Devils, who have reached every play-off finals weekend, responded and Kowalski was positioned perfectly to deny Scott Dobben as the forward skated clean through on goal.

Kowalski also saved from both Scott Matzka and Harding before making a decent double block from Dobben.

Still the half-chances came but the season's showpiece could not repeat the thrill-a-minute viewing and 20 goals which fans were treated to on Saturday.

Nottingham's most potent attacking player Fox then almost scored a wonderful solo goal when he held on to the puck for an eternity, turned away from at least three challenges, and forced a good save from Lyle.

A massive hit by Guy Lepine on Harding which drew a two-minute penalty and ten minutes for checking to the head finally saw the game explode.

And after surviving the powerplay, Panthers really began to pile on the pressure and create chances.

They could have gone ahead while short-handed when Clarke blocked brilliantly and set up skipper Danny Meyers whose effort was diverted to safety.

Lyle then somehow kept out a Clarke attempt and Francis and Rob Lachowicz also went close.

At the other end, Matzka slapped a high strike on goal which Kowalski saved with his shoulder.

But it was Panthers who were posing the greater threat.

And Devils, who secured a physically and mentally exhausting penalty shoot-out win over a league winners Belfast just 24 hours earlier, seemed to tire in the closing stages as Panthers went all out for victory.

Great stickwork and quick hands from Beauregard finally put Panthers ahead after Brandon Benedict's shot was saved.

Further chances followed but it was not until Clarke showed brilliant composure in the final minute to finish into an empty net that Panthers could begin to celebrate.

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