The Belfast Giants will enter ‘the biggest week of the season’ as leaders of the Elite League.
Steve Thornton’s men did all they could, beating the Edinburgh Capitals 3-1 last night to record a four-point weekend for the first time in a month, thanks to goals from Brandon Benedict, Evan Cheverie and Pat Bateman’s late empty net strike.
Stephen Murphy did as much as anyone to make sure of the win though and was unlucky not to clock up another shut-out.
It was the Sheffield Steelers’ victory over Coventry Blaze that allowed the Giants to move into first place.
And next up in the league are two massive meetings between the Giants and Blaze this coming weekend, with the Belfast men presented with the opportunity to open up a five point lead if they can win both games.
The Giants may have beaten Edinburgh 8-2 in Belfast last Friday night, but they didn’t have things all their own way last night.
Indeed they had to wait until the second period before making the breakthrough — but that put the outcome beyond doubt.
Benedict has been weighing in with an average of a goal a game since the end of last month and he struck with another vital finish.
Kevin Phillips and Tom Walsh brought the puck out from the Giants zone to start the move for the second goal, which was finished off in style by Evan Cheverie.
Mark Smith broke Murphy’s stubborn resistance to give the Capitals some hope, but when they pulled their goaltender in search of a late leveller the Giants stole the puck and Pat Bateman followed up his double in Friday night’s 11-3 win over Newcastle by netting for the 15th time this season.
Now the big games really start for the Giants, with the first leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final against the Cardiff Devils on Wednesday evening preceding what will be eagerly awaited games against Blaze, in Belfast on Saturday and in Coventry 24 hours later.
“They are both like four point games,” said Thornton.
“We have a chance to put some distance between us and that will be our motivation.
“Without a doubt this is our biggest week of the season.
“We are the Challenge Cup holders and we want to retain the trophy. Cardiff are fully fit and have Ryan Finnerty on board now too, so they’ll not be easy.
“We know how tough it will be against Coventry, we haven’t beaten them this season, but we are looking forward to doing that.
“We weren’t at our best against Edinburgh, they had some good chances, but Stephen Murphy was fantastic again.”