Belfast Giants flex muscles to silence the Nottingham Panthers
Doug Christiansen compared the Belfast Giants' 2-1 victory over the Nottingham Panthers on Saturday night to a heavyweight boxing contest as his team showed their fighting qualities to stay top of the Elite League table.
September is far too early for any of the title contenders to be dealt a knockout blow, but at least the Giants have taken the first round by sending the Panthers away from the Odyssey Arena empty handed.
By the time the Giants had taken a 16th minute lead through Benoit Doucet they'd already lost Brock McBride to a game misconduct penalty and Mark Garside with a deep cut to his eyelid.
For two full periods Christiansen had to do without two of his three centremen and with the line-up already shorn of Jon Pelle and Jeremy Rebek the players proved they can grind out a result when they need to, with Craig Peacock winning the game three minutes before the end of the second period after Jordan Fox had levelled for the Panthers.
"In between the first and second periods, after we'd lost McBride and Garside, I said to the players that the rest of the game was going to be like a heavyweight fight," said Christiansen.
"I knew that we were going to take some blows and it was how we responded to them.
"When we got into trouble the guys dug deep. They put the puck deep in Nottingham's end and worked their defencemen.
"Robert Dowd has played centre before and he stepped up along with Derek Le Blanc.
"Le Blanc and Adam Keefe were excellent on the second line, when they're third line players and that's the kind of performances we need if we're going to be successful this season."
Whether Garside is available for the weekend road trip to Scotland, where the Giants face Fife on Saturday before meeting Edinburgh on Sunday, won't be known until later in the week, but George Awada will stay in the line-up for the foreseeable future.