AFTER threatening to stage a third period comeback, Newcastle Vipers were sunk by two late goals.
With nine minutes left to play, the Vipers had recovered from a 4-0 deficit to put themselves back in with a chance of getting something out of the game.
But on 54 minutes Guillaime Lepine let fly from just in front of the Vipers' bench and the puck's direction was successfully altered by Billy Ryan to make it 5-3 to the home side.
Then on 57 minutes Danny Meyers struck the Panthers' sixth goal of the night, firing high from the left hand face off circle.
Two young Sheffield Steeldogs’ players, LLoyd Gibson and Adam Radmall, were given an opportunity to play hockey at a high level by the Vipers, who on their last visit to the National Ice Centre in January were heavily beaten 15-0. At the end of the first period another severe defeat looked possible as the Vipers left the ice trailing by three goals, all scored on the powerplay.
The Vipers had the better of the opening exchanges and their player coach Danny Stewart tested netminder Craig Kowalski with a fierce wrist shot. Then Kowalski had to used his blocker to prevent Toms Hartmanis scoring and after Mike Prpich attempted a wrap around, defenceman Kyle Sibley fired the puck at the Panthers net through traffic.
Unfortunately the early promise didn’t amount to anything and the Vipers found themselves in trouble when Prprich was ordered off the ice for holding an opponent’s stick. On the powerplay Jade Galbraith picked out David Clarke between the two face off circles and the Panthers’ No. 5 hit the puck instantly, sending it on course into the net close to the right hand post.
The Vipers went further behind on 13 minutes while their top scorer Jarsoslav Rzeszutko was serving a minor hooking penalty. Prprich blocked Corey Neilson’s long range shot, Galbraith controlled the puck which had shot upwards and Matthew Myers poked it home from short range.
Rzeszutko was sitting out his second penalty of the night when Billy Ryan netted a third with 12 seconds of the period left.
Effinger was called into action after the break when Galbtraith threatened to score a fourth goal after skating with the puck from deep within his own zone, the netminder foiling the forward with a poke check. Such was the Panthers' superiority, it was only a matter of time before they scored again and the fourth goal came on 32 minutes, player coach Corey Neilson scoring with a deft backhand as he skated away from goal.
In a rare Vipers' foray Prpich picked out Sibley, but the defenceman's goal attempt was not one of his best and was easily saved by Kowalski. In the final minute of the period the Vipers at last got on the scoreboard, Prpich and Paul Sample combining to create the one on one opportunity which Toms Hartmanis took for his 21st goal of the season and 48th point. Effinger had made 22 saves during the first two periods and was making another one during the opening stages of the final period, using his pads to stop Neilson scoring from close range.
The overworked netminder was beaten by a Rob Bellamy shot but fortunately for him, the puck struck metalwork instead of the back of the net.
Seven minutes into the period the Vipers and their small band of travelling fans were celebrating for a second time after Rzeszutko beat Kowalski with a low backhanded shot that travelled across the netminder.
The gap between the two sides narrowed further with just under ten minutes of the game remaining. Hartmanis didn't get the connection he would have liked on his shot but it was enough to send the puck underneath Kowalski's left leg.
SCORERS: Panthers: Ryan 2+1, Clarke and Neilson 1+1, Meyers and Myers 1+0, Galbraith 0+3, Beauregard, Heerema, Lepine and Levers 0+1.
Vipers: Hartmanis 2+0. Rzeszutko 1+1, Prpich 0+2, Sample and Sibley 0+1.