Giants win last-gasp thriller at Braehead
Braehead Clan 3 - Belfast Giants 4
Mitch Ganzak struck an overtime winner as the Belfast Giants overcame Braehead Clan in the first leg of their post-Christmas double-header.
And if the return meeting in Belfast tomorrow night is half as good then it will be another cracker.
It shouldn't have been such a thrilling finish though, with the Giants allowing a 3-1 lead to slip away with just over five minutes left of the clock.
Powerplay goals from James Desmarais and Kris Beech had the Giants ahead at the end of the first period and Craig Peacock restored the two-goal advantage after Stefan Meyer had pulled one back for Clan early in the second period.
Thomas Nesbitt and Scott Pitt scored the late goals to give Clan a point at the end of 60 minutes and the overtime period lasted only 50 seconds before Ganzak netted to make it four wins in-a-row for the Giants and send the Giants contingent within the 3,500 strong crowd in the Braehead Arena home happy
Mike Radja was the surprise omission in the Giants line up, with player-coach Derrick Walser having to sit one of his imports to stay within the permitted match-night quota.
Braehead went on an early powerplay when Peacock was sent to the box, but they were only able to register a single shot during the two minutes when they had a numerical advantage.
In fact, Clan had as many shots on a Giants powerplay soon after, when Scott Aarssen was penalised for a check from behind.
Stephen Murphy was forced into a fine save and almost immediately the Giants went up the ice and grabbed the lead as Walser set up Desmarais to open the scoring on the powerplay at 8:53.
Braehead successfully killed off another penalty, but they were undone again when short handed as the first period drew to a close.
This time Matt Haywood was punished for a holding offence and the Giants took advantage with Brandon Benedict and Peacock combining to create the opening for Beech to score the Giants second powerplay goal of the game.
The Clan's response in the second period was swift.
Just three minutes after the restart Matt Keith and Marcus Gotz worked the puck and fed Meyer, who beat Murphy with a neat finish.
Their joy was short lived though as Peacock restored the Giants' two-goal lead just 55 seconds later, firing past Clan goaltender Chris Holt unassisted.
The Giants almost turned the tables on Clan when they were awarded a powerplay midway through the second period, with Holt pulling of the biggest save of the two minutes of Desmarais' cross-checking penalty.
Keith had a great chance to pull one back for Clan after working his way into some space, but he fluffed his shot when well placed to attack the Giants goal.
At the other end the Giants rang the pipework as the game started to open up.
Clan had enough chances to take the lead, but on three separate occasions in quick succession they were off target with shots.
They did take full advantage when Jeff Mason was punished with a delay of game penalty six minutes from time.
Within 12 seconds of the Giants defenceman taking his seat in the box Nesbitt rattled the puck past Murphy to reduce the deficit to just a single goal at 54:49.
The Clan set up a thrilling finish when they levelled with less than two minutes to go.
Just like Nesbitt had done earlier, Pitt took the puck through on his own to score unassisted and rock the Giants.
The hooter to end the 60 minutes came at a good time for the Giants as the break allowed them to regroup after those late goals.
Whatever Walser said to rally them obviously had an impact - as did his play as he and Desmarais combined and Ganzak got the last touch to put the puck past Holt and win the game for the Giants.