Belfast Giants hit top form
Nottingham Panthers 3 Belfast Giants 3: It's first blood to the Belfast Giants as they came back from the dead to claim victory in the first of three successive games against the Nottingham Panthers to move three points clear at the top of the Elite League table.
Despite taking an early lead the Giants trailed 3-1 early in the third period and had an uphill task in getting anything from the game, let alone a win — particularly in Nottingham’s own back yard.
Goaltender Stephen Murphy proved to be the hero once again though, saving two of the Panthers penalties as the game went to a shoot-out and with Jeff Mason and Brett Hemingway scoring for the Giants they took the extra point after a tied game.
With two more meetings to come at the Odyssey Arena next weekend, the Giants will now take the psychological edge into those games. Mike Bayrack maintained his record of scoring in every game against the Panthers this season when he gave the Giants the lead midway through the first period.
The credit for the goal, however, must go to Mark Garside, who kept possession of the puck superbly behind the goal before playing it behind him into Bayrack’s path for him to score his 12th of the season. The Giants piled on the pressure in what remained of the first period, making Nottingham goaltender Craig Kowalski work and things threatened to boil over too with Giant Brett Hemingway and Guillaume Lepine of Nottingham both earning five-minute fighting penalties.
The second period belonged to Nottingham — and David Clarke in particular. The GB international couldn’t have missed as he levelled matters from close range just a couple of minutes after the re-start.
Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy then made an outstanding stop to deny Matthew Myers, who skated up the ice on his own while the Giants were on a powerplay.
Just when it looked like the teams would finish the second period on level terms Clarke struck for a second time — and again it was a real opportunist goal.
Panthers player-coach Corey Neilson send a pinpoint pass to the far side of the goal and Clarke tapped home unmarked.
Just eight seconds into the third period the Panthers went 3-1 up. Giants defenceman Jeff Mason gave the puck straight to Jade Galbraith and he skated in on Murphy before firing the puck home. Five minutes later the Giants reduced the advantage when Josh Prudden scored and then the powerplay finally clicked to yield an equaliser.
Rob Bellamy was punished for spearing as well as a fight with Colin Shields, which left the Giants captain with blood streaming from his face. Michael Jacobsen fired the puck towards the net from the blueline and Craig Peacock got the final touch to put it into the net.
Neither team could find a winner, meaning penalties.
Mason scored first, followed by Galbraith for Nottingham. Dan Welch missed, as did David Beauregard and when Hemingway netted his shot Jonathan Zion looked on in disbelief as his effort hit both posts, but failed to cross the line, giving the Giants victory.