Belfast Giants have no room to slip up after Nottingham defeat
The Giants finally found a way past Blaze when they recorded a 2-1 win at the Odyssey on Saturday night, but with the Belfast men losing 3-1 in Nottingham last night while Coventry fired five past the Sheffield Steelers, the gap at the top of the table is back to five points.
And with just five weeks of the regular season left Steve Thornton wants that to be his team’s last defeat of the campaign.
“It’s frustrating because we played well and the game could have gone either way,” said Thornton.
“We had chances, but didn’t take them and we had two five-on-threes as well.
“We put ourselves in a position where we could get a shot at Coventry because they don’t play on Wednesday when we go to Cardiff, but that’s gone now after they won.
“The gap is five points again, but we have to keep going and keep trying.
“Every game is must-win now.”
The Giants had got off to a perfect start at the National Ice Centre. They went in front after less than four minutes of a first period that saw both teams record an impressive 28 shots in a thrilling 20 minutes.
It had all been sparked off by Nottingham’s Kevin Bergin and Giants enforcer Sean McMorrow getting their expected fight out of the way as the puck dropped, but the most significant moment of the opening spell was when Jeff Szwez netted short-handed, while Graeme Walton was also off the ice, to open the scoring.
After a breathless first period Nottingham levelled matters just over a minute into the second. Jay Henderson was on the mark to
give his team a foothold in the game.
Four minutes later — and with Kevin Philips off the ice for hooking — David Clarke put the Panthers into the lead and put the Giants under pressure.
The Giants did pour forward, particularly as the third period began to heat up, but despite restricting Nottingham to shots from distance, they couldn’t find the finish at the other end.
Five minutes from the end the Panthers gave themselves a two-goal cushion to defend when Bruce Richardson set up Stephen Lee and his goal effectively killed off the Giants.
The title race isn’t over though and with two trips to Coventry to come the Giants can still close the gap to a single point, but they will still need a favour from another team if they are to claim the prize.
The Cardiff Devils could be that team on Thursday, but they are also the side that the Giants meet on Wednesday in the Welsh capital and they will pose a serious threat to both teams.
“We’ve lost our last couple in Cardiff, but we have to keep the pressure on Coventry as much as possible,” said Thornton.
“If we can take the gap down to three points at least that will be a start for us and we can only look after ourselves.
“Our top line, Jeff Szwez, Colin Shields and Pat Bateman were excellent, Stephen Murphy has played well again and I can’t fault the guys for effort because they came off after every shift done.
“This isn’t one of the games we’ll look back on though if we don’t win the league, even though we could have won it. Others have been more costly.”