Belfast Giants 5 Manchester Storm 2
Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe says his side need to execute better if they want to win the Elite League title despite their 5-2 win over the Manchester Storm last night.
The Giants (38-12-2) dropped two points behind the Cardiff Devils in the title race after they suffered a 4-1 reverse at the Sheffield Steelers on Saturday, however, they did rebound by downing the Storm at the SSE Arena.
David Rutherford got the game-winner 7:34 into the third period to help the Giants to a bounce-back win, with Dustin Johner sealing the important victory with a brace in the final two minutes.
However, Keefe was frustrated with the weekend as a whole and admitted they can't afford any more slip-ups if they want to overhaul two-time defending champions Cardiff at the top.
"If Cardiff can win their remaining nine in a row then that's a credit to them, and we'll tip our hat to them," said Keefe.
"But I do think they'll slip up, so we have to deal with things on our end and make sure if they do slip up we're there.
"We need to elevate our game and keep it there consistently because we've definitely dropped off since the Cardiff weekend, and that's concerning.
"We need to try and get back to that level again this week, we need to keep that level and hold it.
"If we can do that then I'm very confident with our run-in."
Against Manchester, the Giants weren't much better than they were in Sheffield the night before.
While the special teams once again came to the fore, with their league-leading penalty kill going 4-for-4, throughout the night the Giants looked a step behind the play in what was a rather unique game.
It's one that Storm defenceman Harrison Ruopp will want to forget in a hurry.
The Canadian deflected a pass from Blair Riley past his own netminder, Matt Ginn, to give the Giants the lead at 9:51 and then a shot from Rutherford banked in off Ruopp's back for the second with 10.2 seconds remaining in the first.
Rutherford was handed a four-minute accidental high sticking penalty in the melee that led to the second goal, but the Giants penalty killers did their job superbly to play it out.
But their good work was in vain as Dane Byers drew the Storm back within one at 6:20 of the second period, forcing the puck under Tyler Beskorowany - who made 24 saves on 26 shots - at the backdoor.
Jordan Smotherman had a goal washed out for goaltender interference on Ginn by Jonathan Boxill and Colin Shields hit the post early in the third after a feed from Smotherman.
Rutherford then got the game-winner, reacting quickest to a rebound and backhanding over Ginn, only for Linden Springer to make it a one-goal game again at 8:54 of the third when his left circle shot banked in off Beskorowany's shoulder.
But Johner made sure of the win when he finished high blocker when one-on-one with Ginn with just 1:54 to go, before adding an empty netter with 25.5 seconds left on the clock.
"I thought we made a bit too many mistakes for my liking," added Keefe.
"We had a bit of non-execution on our chances, but I thought for the majority of the game we controlled possession, so it's hard to be upset with that game.
"We'll take the win we got and work on it this week."