Nottingham Panthers 2 Belfast Giants 7
Ben Lake doubled his tally for the season after notching four goals in the Belfast Giants’ 7-2 romp over the Nottingham Panthers as they started 2022 with a bang at the Motorpoint Arena, making it eight wins in a row in the Premier Sports Elite League.
After the top line of David Goodwin, Scott Conway and J.J. Piccinich did the initial damage for the Giants in a blistering start, and Cam Knight got what actually proved to be the game-winner after just 6:07, it was Lake who took over with a sumptuous individual performance to put some gloss on the scoreline.
The GB international struck just after the midpoint of the first period for his opener, then added a spectacular spinning finish in the second period before wrapping up the treble early in the third and adding the visitors’ only powerplay marker with just 2:43 left on the clock.
All three of the top line had three-point efforts in the victory, while the Giants were backed by 27 saves from netminder Tyler Beskorowany, who rebounded solidly after being beaten by Mark Matheson and Matthew Myers in the first period to shut the door for the remaining two.
With eight straight under their belts, the Giants improve their record to 14-5-0 on the season and are now just five points behind league leaders the Sheffield Steelers still with a game in hand over their rivals and plenty of confidence to go with it.
"It's been a lot of fun standing behind these guys and watching them do their thing," praised head coach Adam Keefe.
"We haven't been focusing (on the winning streak), the first time I heard about it was the last game, so we've been focusing on ourselves and trying to do what we do every game which is find that consistency. Tonight was no different.
"Our strong suit is we want to be the best team defensively in the league and there are areas from tonight's game and our last game where we can get better. That's our focus right now.
"Right now it's a lot of fun on the bench and we just have to stay focused on one game at a time."
It’s safe to say the Giants have the Panthers’ number so far this season, too, Keefe’s side having won all three games between the two sides by an aggregate score of 19-4, with this the second straight 7-2 win over Tim Wallace’s men having done the same at the start of December at the SSE Arena.
On this occasion Lake was to the fore and he will no doubt be delighted that, having scored just three goals coming into the game, his tally for the season now stands at seven.
It was the winger who scored the Giants’ last four goals of the game, too, after the visitors had had flown out to a blistering start which had them three to the good and their hosts reeling just after the six-minute mark.
Initially it was the top line that were red-hot, and it took just 25 seconds for Goodwin to put them ahead, the captain set up at the crease by Piccinich’s backhand pass and dangling around Panthers goaltender Kevin Carr – 27 saves – to slide home, before they connected again at 2:48 when Piccinich seized on a turnover, again backhanding the pass to Goodwin and this time he turned provider by giving Conway a tap-in for 2-0.
It only got better at 6:07, Knight getting in on the scoring when he fired on goal from the blue-line and Mark Cooper’s screen meant Carr didn’t even react until the puck was already nestled behind him in the goal for what would eventually end up being the game-winning goal.
Lake notched his first of the afternoon at 12:55, stabbing in Griffin Reinhart’s rebound at the crease to give Belfast their first four-goal period of the season, although that came either side of Matheson’s blue-line powerplay effort at 11:50 – Conway in the box for interference – and J.C. Brassard’s shot being tipped in by Myers at 17:11 which made it a 4-2 game at the first intermission.
But after riding out a turbulent second period that saw the two sides share seven penalties, and the Giants pass up four opportunities on the powerplay, Lake finally settled them down and went on to complete his treble and change to settle any nerves over the result.
The Great Britain ace had already come close to adding a second when he tipped Kevin Raine’s shot onto the bar, but with only 3:07 to the second intermission he was finally rewarded in spectacular fashion, somehow managing to divert the puck on goal and through the five-hole of Carr while he was being pulled to the ice to make it 5-2.
Christophe Boivin gave the Giants a couple of early scares in the final period, Beskorowany turning a shot onto the post and then the forward finding space in the slot and pinging one clean off the iron inside the first five minutes, but those missed chances sucked the air out of the building.
And once Lake had completed his hat-trick, it was game over, skating free in the slot and receiving Tyler Soy’s pass from behind the goal, which he managed to squeeze through the pads of Carr and in at 7:42 of the third period, with his powerplay goal just 2:43 from the final buzzer – with Boivin off for slashing – nothing more than salt in the wounds.
The special teams had what can be described as a decent night, with the powerplay 1-for-5 and the penalty kill a respectable 3-for-4, but there will be little complaints from head coach Keefe after another display that further underlines their title credentials.
The Giants are back in action on Friday night when they return to the home comforts of the SSE Arena to take on the Coventry Blaze, provided they are able to return from the EIHL’s Covid protocol.