Belfast Giants net chance to reach summit of Elite League
Belfast Giants 5 Nottingham Panthers 4
The Belfast Giants have cut the Cardiff Devils' lead at the top of the Elite League to just a single point - but they had to stave off a determined fightback from the Nottingham Panthers to do so.
Leading 3-0 after just 12 minutes thanks to goals from Jim Vandermeer, David Rutherford and James Desmarais, the Giants looked to be in a comfortable position before the Panthers rallied.
Jeff Brown pulled one back early in the third period before Desmarais restored the three-goal cushion and he completed his hat-trick to make it 5-2 after Chris Lawrence had scored for the Panthers.
Fresh from winning the Continental Cup last weekend, the Panthers refused to give up and Robert Farmer and Matt Carter reduced the deficit to a single goal, but they couldn't find an equaliser.
Vandermeer gave the Giants a dream start when he netted after 88 seconds. Rutherford pulled the puck into his path and the defenceman ripped a slapshot from the blueline into the net.
The second came two minutes later, with Rutherford the scorer this time after Ryan Martinelli and Alex Foster moved the puck forward. The Giants hit their third just 39 seconds later to really take control of the game.
Some slick passing brought Colin Shields and Steve Saviano into play and they provided the opportunity for Desmarais to net his first at 12:23.
Nottingham reacted to that by immediately taking goaltender Miika Wiikman out of the game.
They tried to change the momentum when Brown fought Giants captain Adam Keefe, but the Belfast man came out on top.
After shutting each other out during the second period, the Panthers suddenly came to life in the third.
Brown sparked the comeback at 42:33, but they were undone on a powerplay when Desmarais scored at 49:42. The Panthers responded when Lawrence scored their second at 53:25, but hopes of a comeback were dampened when Desmarais hit his hat-trick goal just 17 seconds later.
Nottingham did at least make the final minutes interesting.
Farmer cut the lead to 5-3 at 54:45 and when Carter scored to put just one goal between the teams at 58:19, the Panthers pulled back-up goaltender Jindrich Paci but the Giants held on and now a win over the Dundee Stars tonight could see them go to the top of the table.