Nottingham Panthers: treble winners

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American netminder Craig Kowalski believes winning the treble with Nottingham Panthers ranks among his best achievements in the game.

The 32-year-old, drafted by Carolina Hurricanes in 2000, produced a man-of-the-match performance as Panthers, who had already won the Elite League title and Challenge Cup, beat Belfast Giants 3-2 in a thrilling play-off final at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham.

Kowalski, who has already agreed to return to Panthers next season, has now won the play-offs in all three years with the club.

He said: “It had to end that way. To win it in overtime caps off an unbelievable season.

“We have been so good all year, there was no way we were going to lose that game.

“This is pretty special. To win a championship in overtime has to be at the top of the list.

“Obviously winning the league title this year was number one because we had never done it and there was such big pressure on the team. That was amazing - but this ranks right up there.”

Great Britain netminder Stephen Murphy was named Giants’ man of the match after pulling off a string of sensational saves.

It needed a fortuitous goal to finally beat him on the powerplay at 28.43 when Robert Lachowicz’s shot landed on top of the goal and the puck then bounced up and hit Murphy on the back before dropping into the net.

Jonathan Weaver (39.32) made it 2-0 - also on the powerplay - before Giants clawed themselves back in the game with a powerplay strike of their own from Robby Sandrock at 44.53.

They were level when Kevin Saurette converted a rebound at 47.54, before Fox found the winner with seven seconds of the powerplay remaining.

On the game-winning goal, Murphy said: “They hit a shot which went wide and bounced off the back boards. It turned into a bit of a scramble and they got the stick on it first. That’s the way it goes, it could have gone either way.

“It was a battle, I knew it was going to be a tight one. They are a good team but we battled hard and I am proud to be part of this team. It has been a tough year but it has been a challenge.”

Meanwhile, back in Sheffield, the hunt continues for Finnerty’s successor.

Sheffield’s owner Tony Smith task now is to find a man capable of dismantling Nottingham’s complete supremacy.