Rutherford hat-trick stuns Panthers as title race takes twist
David Rutherford hit a stunning hat-trick to help the Belfast Giants complete a weekend double over the Nottingham Panthers on a night when the race for the Elite League title race took on a new dimension.
While the Giants were winning 5-2 against the Panthers, the Cardiff Devils lost 6-2 away to the Sheffield Steelers, which means the gap at the top of the table is now five points with just four games to go.
If the Devils slip up again when they go back to Sheffield on Saturday night, or at home to the Fife Flyers 24 hours later, and the Giants beat the Steelers on Friday night, and Coventry Blaze on Saturday, they will go to Cardiff for a double-header weekend season finale knowing that two regulation time wins will give them the title.
After an early fight between the Giants’ Mike Quesnele and Panthers’ Alex Nikiforuk, which saw both earn a five-minute sit down, the visitors took the lead at 6:49 through Jeff Brown.
The Giants then stepped up and took control of the game in the second period when Chris Higgins pulled the puck into the path of Rutherford who unleashed a stunning slapshot goal that flew into the net at 24:46.
Colin Shields, who himself had scored a hat-trick when the Giants beat the Panthers 7-3 on Friday night, then put his team ahead with a sweet finish at 31:43 after being set up by James Desmarais and Jerome Leduc.
When Rutherford followed up after his own shot had hit the crossbar to make it 3-1 five minutes into the third period, the Giants were firmly in the driving seat.
Blair Riley made it 4-1 on a short-handed breakaway at 53:15, but the Panthers cut the lead back to two goals just 36 seconds later through Dan Spang.
Any hopes of a comeback were killed-off a further 39 seconds after that goal when Rutherford completed his treble. “It was awesome. The boys came to play this weekend, that’s for sure,” said Giants forward Steve Saviano.
“We played well, we were moving the puck well, the defence were moving up quick, Stephen Murphy played great as always and we got two big wins.”