Tim Wallace’s Nottingham Panthers opened the best-of-three Elite Series final with a win, defeating the Sheffield Steelers 5-3 amid controversial circumstances.
Ollie Betteridge’s game-winning goal, Nottingham’s fourth of the evening, was upheld following a review requested by Steelers head coach Aaron Fox.
Scored following a scramble for the puck in the crease, Sheffield challenged the officials’ on-ice decision to award the goal, claiming that the whistle had been blown before Betteridge found twine.
A powerplay marker, Betteridge’s 42nd-minute goal proved decisive, with the Steelers unable to find a route back into the game.
In the final minute of play, Nottingham doubled their lead through Dominic Talbot-Tassi, who scored into an empty net while Sheffield netminder John Muse watched from the bench.
The previous two periods were similarly action-packed, with the middle frame featuring five goals and two unconverted powerplay opportunities.
Despite taking the lead in the opening period through Brendan Connolly, Sheffield were forced to come from behind twice in the second period, responding to go-ahead goals by Talbot-Tassi and Joshua Tetlow to enter the third period tied 3-3.
While Jonathan Phillips and Josef Mikyska were responsible for the Steelers’ second-period levellers, it was Mark Matheson who got Nottingham on the board after 22 minutes of play.
“For the most part, we were in control,” Wallace told reporters after the game. “I think we were structurally sound and it was a good team effort… that’s what its going to take, every single one of these guys fighting to get the win.”
The sides will reconvene battle on Sunday evening, with the Panthers one victory away from securing the Elite Series title.