Saviano nets vital goal as Giants tame the Panthers
Steve Saviano followed up his four-goal salvo in Saturday night's 7-2 win over the Fife Flyers by netting his fifth of the weekend as the Belfast Giants came from behind to beat the Nottingham Panthers 4-3.
After slipping seven points behind the Cardiff Devils at the top of the Elite League table after losing twice in back-to-back games against the leaders last weekend, the Giants players backed up player-coach Derrick Walser's declaration that they weren't giving up on the title by coming out of this weekend with maximum points.
Missing defensive pair Jeff Mason and Alex Foster, as well as forward Jonathan Boxill, the Giants stepped up and after going behind to an early David Clarke goal they produced a strong response and led 3-1 by the 33rd minute.
Although the Panthers cut the lead to a single goal when Matt Carter scored, Saviano struck just seconds later with the goal that ultimately won the game, with Chris Lawrence's third period strike irrelevant in terms of the final result.
Nottingham made the stronger start to the game and they had already tested Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy a few times before Clarke broke the deadlock.
Dan Spring and Stephen Schultz created the chance and Clarke' strong shot came down off the crossbar and into the net with just 6:22 on the clock.
Murphy came under attack as the Panthers pushed for a second goal, but it was the Giants who were next on the scoresheet.
Ryan Martinelli moved forward from defence, linked with Chris Higgins who sent the puck on to Blair Riley to fire past Miika Wiikman at 14:50 and complete a fine move.
The Giants clicked into gear after that and took the lead early in the second period.
Just 88 seconds in David Rutherford and Brandon Benedict worked the puck around the Nottingham defence and Matt Towe provided the crucial finishing touch.
The Panther piled pressure on the Giants goal in search of an equaliser, but Murphy stood tall before Nottingham's Brian McGrattan sought out the Giants' Jim Vandermeer after 31 minutes and an epic fight followed between the two NHL veterans.
If Nottingham saw that as a momentum-swinger they were to be disappointed as the Giants took advantage of their numerical advantage - the powerplay coming because McGrattan was given an instigator penalty - and stretched their lead at 32:22.
Rutherford did the creative work again, this time setting up James Desmarais to finish.
The Giants were denied a fourth goal in an odd-man rush before Murphy kept out Robert Farmer's shot with his body in a period of end-to-end action.
Nottingham did close the gap to 3-2 at 35:53. Alex Nikiforuk and Chris Lawrence created the chance which Carter finished off.
Within seconds of the restart Farmer clashed with Rutherford and while the Giants player left the ice with blood pouring from his face the Nottingham man headed for the dressing room too on a match penalty for a check to the head.
The Giants were just 10 seconds into the powerplay that followed when Saviano struck their fourth goal.
Two of the previous goalscorers, Towe and Desmarais, were the providers this time for Saviano to finish at 16:04.
The Panthers cut the lead to just a single goal when Lawrence scored, deflecting Stevie Lee's shot into the net at 48:20 - also 10 seconds into a powerplay after Rutherford had been penalised for a holding offence.
Even a late fight between Lee and Mike Quesenele after a shoving match and a late holding call on Desmarais couldn't turn things Nottingham's way as they were denied a last-gasp equaliser by the goal post.