Nottingham Panthers put in a tremendous performance as they lost 3-1 to Zurich Lions – meaning they can still dream of making the last eight of the Champions Hockey League.
Panthers went into the first leg of the last 16 tie – the biggest game in their history – as overwhelming underdogs, despite their exploits in the competition so far.
If they were to have any chance of staying in the tie then they needed a big performance from their goaltender and Mike Garnett delivered hugely after getting the nod ahead of Patrick Galbraith.
Panthers came under pressure early in the game, but only trailed to Samuel Guerra’s first period goal until early in the third period.
Brett Perlini drew them level, but Roman Wick and Fredrik Pettersson gave the Swiss side the two-goal advantage heading into next Tuesday’s return leg.
Panthers will be significant outsiders at the Motorpoint Arena as they look to knock out one of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Only 3,000 fans attended the first leg, but Panthers will hope for almost twice that next week, as Nottingham prepares for its biggest European night since Forest took on Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup quarter-final 21 years ago.
Panthers went into the game without Mark Derlago, who has returned to Canada due to a serious family illness.
Head coach Corey Neilson took his place behind the bench despite the recent death of his father.
Garnett was forced into to a couple of early saves, while Fabrize Herzog missed the target with Zurich’s best opening.
Panthers were gradually settling into the game with Robert Farmer enjoying their first foray forward as he broke down the right and cut towards goal before his shot was blocked.
The away team fell behind after 8.56 just as they were finding their feet. They had cause for complaint as Ollie Betteridge was impeded in the build-up.
No whistle was forthcoming and Guerra took advantage by beating Garnett.
Panthers killed the first penalty of the night and dug in to make it to the end of the period without going further behind.
They needed Garnett to make a sensational glove save with four seconds left though as he thwarted an unmarked forward in front.
The second period was far more even as Panthers became a little more of an offensive force.
They went on the power play in the 25th minute and looked a threat having scored three goals from that source on Sunday in Coventry.
Farmer had the best opening but Lions netminder Lukas Flueler was alive to his shot.
Every opportunity of note was falling to Farmer. The Great Britain international was put in by Raphael Bussieres after 37 minutes, but his shot was again saved and covered.
Panthers had started to look like they could get on the scoresheet and they did just that 52 seconds into the third period through Perlini.
Flueler saved the initial shot but it came out to Perlini, who spun sharply and arrowed a perfect shot into the top corner.
It was a special moment for the club, but parity did not last long.
Garnett made a brilliant stop from former New York Rangers star Kevin Klein moments before Zurich went back in front after 45.51.
Wick had just seen a wraparound stopped when he tried the same effort again, this time successfully as Garnett’s impressive resistance was broken again.
Panthers were starting to lean on Garnett ever more as he made brilliant double save going into the final seven minutes.
They could not hold on though as Pettersson made it 3-1 with 4.20 to go. Petterson was played in in acres of space and he lifted the puck smartly over the netminder as he tried to get into position.
Panthers went back on the power play with 2.41 to go and had 50 seconds of five on three but tired legs could not take advantage.
The power plays did at least ensure Panthers would not take a greater deficit into the return leg.