Belfast Giants 2 Hull Stingrays 0: Stephen Murphy shut-out the Hull Stingrays last night as the Belfast Giants arrested their mini-slump.
From being post-Christmas turkeys, with three losses at the Odyssey Arena in the last week, the Giants produced some New Year heroics to keep the chasing pack at bay at the top of the Elite League table.
Murphy will get the plaudits — and largely that is justified after facing 21 shots without being beaten. On the whole though it was a team performance from front to back which gave the Giants the victory.
“It's a huge win and we needed to end what's been a bad week on a high,” said coach Doug Christiansen.
“For Stephen Murphy to get his first shut-out of the season is great for his confidence and great for the team's confidence as well.
“I told the players that we've been the best team in the league for four months and had one defeat a month in that time. We've had one bad week and we're not going to let that wreck what we've worked so hard for.
“It's up to the other teams to get the points to try to catch us, but we'll just worry about ourselves and try to keep winning.”
After three straight home defeats it was understandable that there was a little bit of apprehension and some nerves in the Giants line-up.
An early goal would have helped them overcome such difficulties and there was no shortage of chances. The pressure finally paid off when the breakthrough arrived after 13 minutes.
Mark Garside has had a terrible time with injuries, but he put that run behind him when crashing towards the net and firing the lose puck past Christian Boucher in the Hull goal to open the scoring, with Mike Bayrack and Brett Hemingway getting the assists.
The Giants had fired in 19 shots during the first period — an average of almost one per minute — and they bettered that in the second by clocking up 20 attempts on Boucher's goal. One of those rang off the pipework as the score remained at 1-0.
Like the first period though only one shot went in, with Simon Lambert carrying on his impressive goal record by netting a penalty shot after 32 minutes.
It was the French-Canadian himself who was taken out behind the Hull goal and he picked himself up to go one-on-one with Boucher and fired the puck between his pads and into the net.
The first-half of the game had been about offence from the Giants. In the second it was the defence that did its job to earn the points.
Murphy had his clean sheet maintained by the referee when Hull thought they had pulled a goal back. Murphy made a great diving save to deny Matty Davies, but the puck hit Jeff Mason and rolled over the line. The referee ruled that Mason had been impeded and the scoreline remained at |2-0.
Thanks to Murphy and the men in front of him doing what they are paid to do that 2-0 lead was enough for the Giants and they will now head into three huge battles with the Nottingham Panthers in the space of a fortnight — the first of which is away from home this Friday — with confidence restored and ready to protect their lead at the summit.