The Belfast Giants showed a lot of fight — in more ways than one — to keep hold of the Nottingham Panthers’ coattails at the top of the Elite League table.
Three-nil down to Coventry Blaze on Saturday night, it wasn’t just the match that was slipping away from Doug Christiansen and his players — their grip on the title was loosening too.
Champions, however, have that something extra — something intangible — and the Giants called on every ounce, not only to tie the game, but win it on penalties.
Now they need to show the same character and determination on Wednesday night at home to the Fife Flyers and narrow the gap on the Panthers to four points before Saturday’s night’s eagerly awaited top-of-the-table battle in Nottingham.
The Giants were stunned by a quick one-two from Coventry, as they scored twice within the space of 17 seconds. Derek Campbell hitting the net at 16:15 before Brad Leeb got the second.
Even two fights — first David Phillips taking on Dustin Cameron and then Adam Keefe going toe-to-toe with Bryan Jurynec less than 30 seconds later — failed to swing the momentum the Giants way.
And when Steven Chalmers made it 3-0 to Blaze at 23:14 — with Keefe still serving his penalty for instigating the fight — it looked a very long way back for the Giants.
Things turned when Mark Garside got the Giants back into the game at 34:42 and with the Odyssey rocking, thanks to a raucous 5,000 crowd, third period goals from Greg Stewart and Kevin Saurette tooK the game to overtime.
The thrills didn’t end there, though. Robby Sandrock put the Giants ahead in the penalty shoot-out, but with the very next shot Mike Schutte levelled the scores.
When Noah Clarke missed, it sent the shoot-out into a second, sudden-death, round. Leeb and Campbell both missed for Coventry before Jeff Mason did likewise for Belfast, but Sandrock struck a second time to lift the roof and give the Giants a vital victory. And those two points could prove vital come the end of the season.
“We didn’t have our best start, they scored a couple of goals and all of a sudden we were down 2-0, but for the most part we carried the play,” said Christiansen.
“Then we got a couple of fights, we sparked the crowd, we scored a goal and then we started to pressure them all over the ice and that was great to see, but it was a struggle for a while.
“For us to get that first goal back and come out for the third period only down two goals — that’s a do-able margin.
“The guys just battled and battled and battled and to get that second point was vital.”