Belfast Giants can turn up title heat against Blaze after taming Panthers
Belfast Giants 5-2 Nottingham
The Belfast Giants have shot themselves back into the Elite League title frame after recording back-to-back victories for the first time in a month.
And if they can continue to show the same character, hunger and will to win as they did in beating the Nottingham Panthers 6-2 at the SSE Arena last night, Derrick Walser's team will stay in the hunt until the end.
After cutting the gap to leaders Cardiff to nine points much, however, depends on them stretching the winning run to three games when they travel to face Coventry Blaze tonight.
The Panthers stunned the almost 6,000 sell-out crowd when they took an early lead, but the Giants came out flying in the second period with three unanswered goals and then hit three more in the third period with Nottingham only managing one more in reply.
All that came after the Panthers had opened the scoring at 5:18. They had just successfully killed a penalty after Cam Janssen had been punished for boarding when Robert Farmer and Kevin Quick set up Andy Bohmbach and he squeezed his shot under Stephen Murphy just before the Giants goaltender could drop onto the puck.
Whatever Giants player-coach Walser said to his players during the first break had an immediate impact as they were level just 58 seconds after the restart.
Colin Shields and James Desmarais broke away on an odd-man rush and the Great Britain international crashed his shot into the roof of the net.
Although it took the Giants another eight minutes to score their second goal it was really a case of when rather than if they would take the lead.
Mike Radja shot the Giants 2-1 in front at 28:54, just three seconds after Nottingham had successfully killed a penalty.
The Giants did score on their next powerplay. The puck was pulled back to Mitch Ganzak and he cracked home a first-time shot at 32:25.
It took 92 seconds of the third period for the Giants to score their fourth and really take control of the game.
Chris Higgins drew almost the entire Nottingham defence and goaltender Shane Madolora to him before he offloaded the puck to Mike Forney, who had a simple task in tapping it into an unguarded net.
The Panthers' second goal at 51:04 had controversy written all over it. David Clarke fired in a shot from distance which looked to have hit the crossbar before the puck clearly bounced down in front of the line, but after much deliberation referee Dean Smith ruled that it had gone in.
A great exchange of passes between Higgins and Kris Beech saw the latter net the Giants' fifth at 56:42 and Shields then scored his second of the game with an empty net goal three seconds before time after Madolora had been pulled.