A magnificent seven-minute comeback fired the Belfast Giants into a nine-point lead at the top of the Elite League table last night.
Just when it looked like the Nottingham Panthers would cut that gap to just six points, their 2-0 lead was overturned as the Giants pulled off probably the most amazing turnaround in the team’s history to claim a 3-2 win with just eight seconds left on the clock.
And with the Sheffield Steelers winning both of their back-to-back games against Coventry Blaze, they now replace the Panthers in second place.
Hero of the hour Nick Kuiper almost had his big moment taken away from him as Mike Hoffman was credited with the game-winning goal.
The birthday boy was able to celebrate turning 30 in style though when the game sheet was changed to acknowledge that it was indeed him who struck the all-important goal — and one that give the Giants a real head of steam in the title race.
The Giants — who were coming off the back of a penalty shoot-out victory over the Panthers on Saturday night — were rocked when Stephen Lee put the homeside in front with less than four minutes to go.
When Robert Lachowicz doubled the lead at 15:21 it already looked like being a long way back for the Giants, who hadn’t clicked at all at that stage.
The second period was marginally better for the Belfast men, but they were still unable to find a way past Nottingham goaltender Craig Kowalski, despite registering 12 attempts on goal.
As the minutes ticked by without a comeback being sparked it looked like the Giants would come away from the weekend content, but not fully satisfied with two points from two games.
That was until Adam Keefe struck to give his team a lifeline.
There was exactly seven minutes to go at that stage, but more than four of those passed without the equaliser that the Giants needed.
Robert Dowd’s leveller, his 24th goal of the season, at 57:22 changed everything though.
From there the Giants knew that they were at least going to get overtime, but there was no need for the extra five minutes — or a repeat of Saturday’s shoot-out, in which Craig Peacock was the only man to score.
Instead Kuiper came up with just his second goal of the season after George Awada and Mike Hoffman had made the opening — and it’s unlikely he’ll score a more important one.
“It’s a great win. If we’re being honest it was probably our worst performance of the season,” said Christiansen.
“We didn’t look like we were on our game, we didn’t get into the game. We were laxadasical and lazy.
“Nottingham didn’t put us away when they had the chances to do so and between the second and third period I told the guys that we didn’t have to be great, we just had to be better.
“We got the first goal back on what I would call an epic shift. We won every one of our one-on-one battles and wanted to keep the game going by chasing the puck into corners.
“When Robert Dowd equalised the whole momentum of the game swung.
“We had an off-night whatever way you want to describe it, but when you have the commitment that this team has and the determination and desire to get that extra point and extra win needed to win the league and you can win when you don’t deserve it it’s the sign of a good team.”